Concordia’s Annual SCPA Panels are Underway

This year’s overarching theme is “Utopia,” giving students opportunities to discuss plans for a better future in Montreal through policy changes

After two semesters of planning, teams of students from the School of Community and Public Affairs (SCPA)  have begun presenting their panels on various social issues. The first panel took place on Feb. 1, and more will follow until the end of March.

The panels are a part of a class called “Social Debates and Issues in Public Affairs and Public Policy,” or SCPA 301. As described on Concordia’s website, the focus of the class is to help students “on developing both communication skills, through oral and written presentations, and organizational skills as each team must organize one public panel discussion on one of the selected issues.” Six panels will be presented, and the class typically consists of no more than 25 people. The goal of each panel is to bring awareness to a specific issue, like food insecurity, accessibility, or policing, and showcase the ideas of experts in their respective fields.

“Our panel is on food insecurity,” said student Romy Shoam. “The goal of our panel is to hear from experts on differing specific aspects of food insecurity in Montreal and in Canada. They’ll be talking about fixing this problem in an affordable and healthy way for all people. We want to hear about how we can reform our food system in Montreal, both in the short-term and long term.”

The panel will dive into specific problems that affect food security, ranging from accessibility and affordability of food as well as community cooperation to improve food insecurity. The panelists all have expertise within the Canadian food system in differing ways, ranging from the Montreal Food Policy Council to the Quebec Farmers’ Association.  The panelists are Omar Elsharkawy, Erik Chevrier, Anne Marie Aubert, and John McCart.

Rose Chisholm is a student working on a panel that deals with ageism in urban life. “Our panel is called ‘Generation All: Reimagining Montreal.’ We want to have a big brainstorm about creating intergenerational environments. In Montreal, we’re really divided by age, especially in this epidemic of loneliness,” she said.

“In our capitalist society, if you’re not seen as part of that ‘productive’ age bracket, you’re disregarded,” she added. The panel will feature experts and researchers on creating age-friendly cities and bringing an end to the crisis of elder abuse. The students involved have partnered with RECAA (Respecting Elders Communities Against Abuse), the West-end Intergenerational Network, Concordia’s Dr. Meghan Joy, and engAGE Concordia to make this panel happen.

Ace Baldwin is working on a panel on policing in Montreal and its effects on certain communities. “Our panel began as a discussion on police reform, but our group wanted to take it a step further. Many people don’t understand what defunding the police really means or looks like, and I think it’s because it’s hard for people to imagine what defunding or abolishing police looks like — we’ve built our society around this. We know that policing has a negative impact on marginalized and racialized people,” they said.

The panel will focus on alternatives to the current systems in place regarding policing and its impact in Montreal, like defunding the SPVM and gearing those funds towards social workers and community organizations. Panelists will include experts and activists who have witnessed the horrors of police brutality, all of whom happen to be women of colour. The panelists are Marlihan Lopez, Amy Edward, Jessica Quijano, and El Jones.

This year-long course is now reaching its long-awaited climax as students present their panels. Each presentation will be around two hours long, with the last half hour reserved for questions. Due to ongoing pandemic restrictions, the panels will be taking place online. Information on how to sign up and watch the panels can be found on the SCPA Student Association’s Facebook page.


Visuals by James Fay


Le Frigo Vert celebrates their Grand-reopening

Le Frigo Vert is back to offering students food, education and community

As the semester begins and students head back to campus for the first time in months, there is more to look forward to than just classes. Many student fee-levy groups are getting the opportunity to open their doors to new and old students for the first time since March 2020.

One such organization is Le Frigo Vert, an alternative health and community organization. Le Frigo Vert celebrated their grand reopening last week on Sept. 16, offering door prizes, free samosas, and kombucha.

Students were given the opportunity to check out some of the services Le Frigo Vert offers, of which there are many. They operate as a lounge and café, along with selling herbs and wellness products. One of Frigo’s most prominent resources is the pay-what-you-can food baskets, which give students and Frigo members access to affordable, healthy foods which are grown in a garden on the Loyola Campus.

Hunter Cubitt-Cooke, is a western clinical herbalist and a collective member at Le Frigo Vert, who has worked with the organization for six years. He says that over the pandemic the food baskets became even more essential.

“Obviously it’s harder to access food. Food prices have been going up and up. A lot of people just need access to healthy food, so we’re doing only the food baskets now, instead of more grocery items.”

Le Frigo Vert also hosts political debates and other information sessions, though they are currently on hold due to the pandemic.  In addition to their food baskets, they offer pay-what you-can herbal medicines as well as natural menstrual products, free supplies for safer sex and drug use, and they have a kitchenette that is available to students.

Everything Le Frigo Vert does is centered around their mandate and constitution. The constitution focuses a lot on their values of anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism, and ecological sustainability and integrity — just to name a few.

Some of their goals are to be able to provide vegetarian nourishment to marginalized groups, while challenging corporate involvement in food production and distribution.

With the space being fully open, more students will be able to take advantage of the organization’s services, and join in the community.

“Today seeing the lounge filled up, that was great. People were meeting each other and discussing ideas and hearing about [new] things,” Cubitt-Cooke said. “That’s been a huge loss of the pandemic. People don’t care about other political struggles going on, they’re not meeting each other. So we’re excited for that to continue.”

It‘s safe to say that the organization does a lot of different things. It’s tough to pin the space down as just a café, or a shop. More than anything, it’s a community centre for students and members to make their own.

“[We want] more students to come to us and use the space as they see fit,” Cubitt-Cooke said. Students can rent the space after hours, for clubs or other gatherings.

Vikram Iyer is one of the students that came to check out Le Frigo Vert at the grand reopening for the first time.“I like these student cooperatives and initiatives, especially in social spaces,” Iyer said.

“It’s a pretty chill place. It’s a great place to have a conversation and meet like-minded people. […] A lot of cool hangout places have been closed down due to COVID and it’s great to see them open back up again.”

Students can find Le Frigo Vert and access all of the services they offer at 1440 Mackay St. Monday – Thursday from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.


Photograph by Evan Lindsay


Food insecurity among post-secondary students

The largest cross-campus study on food insecurity among post-secondary students conducted in Canada, called Hungry for Knowledge, found nearly 39 per cent of students participating during the year-long study experience some form of inadequate access to food.

The survey analyzed the financial barriers causing food insecurity and the negative impacts on physical and mental health, which affects two in five students. The cost of food (52.7 per cent), tuition fees (51.2 per cent), and housing costs (47.5 per cent) were the most common contributors to food insecurity. Socioeconomic status also played a role: Aboriginal and racialized peoples, students who live in residence and students who use government student financial assistance programs experience some of the highest rates of food insecurity.

Erin Barker, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University, did a collaborative report on food insecurity at specific campuses across Canada, including a pool from Concordia University. The results are in line with the Hungry for Knowledge study, and showed that the first-year Concordia students surveyed who have food insecurity are at greater risk for mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and perceived stress in comparison with students who are food secure.

Barker said that to better address food insecurity on campus, more research on the issue has to be conducted. She said different circumstances, such as students who need immediate help for groceries and one who needs a meal to get through the day, would require different methods of assistance. The University may not currently have specific data on how the issue manifests and that would deter the institution from providing the best resources, “we don’t know what the pattern of food security is, to know what the best interventions are.”

One of the initiatives in the Hungry for Knowledge project is the Meal Exchange program, which is a survey program that works directly with a post-secondary university to find data on their specific institution’s food insecurity issues, and show faculty, students and the administration the findings to better address the issue head on.

As of yet, there is no specific department at Concordia for students facing food insecurity issues, but there are several resources available spread across different departments on campus.

The Multi-faith & Spirituality Centre offers the Student Emergency and Food Fund, which are gift cards for Provigo or Maxi for students in financial crisis. Ellie Hummel, Chaplain and Coordinator at the centre, said “the fund is heavily used every year.” Hummel said that many students who come in are facing financial issues such as problems with loan payments, unemployment and personal crisis situations. Most notably for Hummel, a considerable amount of international students seek out the service: “we have a higher percentage of international students [seeking emergency food funds] than we have percentage of international students at Concordia.”

The fund relies on donations accepted from the public and fundraising efforts. Hummel said that the exercise of giving voluntary donations from the Concordia community to the students is a privilege for her. She added that she often tells students receiving the donations, “this is money, but it also comes with encouragement and a real desire for you to succeed.”

Another resource is the Emergency Meal Plan provided by the Concordia Community Health Services, where different departments at Concordia, such as the Aboriginal Centre, Financial Aid and the Campus Wellness Clinic, can fill out a form after identifying a student facing food insecurity and $100 is uploaded onto their student card.

Anne-Marie Lanctôt, manager at the Concordia University Community Health Services said there has been a significant increase in the use of the program: in 2019, the program provided $6,000 for students compared to $1,100 in 2015.

For immediate daily food needs, there are soup kitchens across campus providing food for free or on a by-donation basis.

The People’s Potato is a vegan soup kitchen at the downtown campus where students can line up from Monday to Friday, 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch. At the Loyola campus, The Hive Free Lunch program offers free vegan, wheat-free and nut-free meals for everyone, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Both kitchens operate during the Fall and Winter semesters.


Stock photos from Pexels

Student Life

How to attain food security in our community

Conversations about food justice filled the room at the fifth annual Transitions Conference

A passion for food and justice gathered people for the fifth annual Transitions Conference, organized by the Concordia Food Coalition. Workshops, discussions and film screenings dedicated to urban agriculture, food security and sustainability attracted a local and international audience from Feb. 2 to 4.

“Part of the activity today was to engage students and people from the community about how they see the food system currently, what, ideally, they would like to see [in the future] and how do we go and meet those needs,” said Erik Chevrier, a part-time professor at Concordia and PhD student focusing on food sovereignty, which is defined as the right to healthy food and a sustainable agriculture system.

Erik Chevrier, a part-time professor and PhD student at Concordia, led a group activity to develop ideas for a food sovereign campus. Photos by Sandra Hercegova.

As part of the Transitions Conference, Chevrier led group activities and events; “basically interacting with the Concordia community to develop ideas for a food sovereign campus,” he explained. Chevrier has also created an archive of all the student-run food groups at Concordia. “I’ve done close to a 1,000 interviews with people from all the different food groups,” he said. “You can see historical archives, people who founded People’s Potato and other groups, as well as people who are working there.”

On Saturday, Feb. 3, a “Food and Social Justice” workshop introduced issues plaguing our food system and potential solutions. The interactive discussion between the presenters and audience members was led by Mia Papp, an environmental science student at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and Maya Provencal, a political science student at Concordia. “We are here to facilitate discussion. We just want to start a conversation on campus about how flawed the food system is,” said Provencal, who is also the outreach and engagement leader at The Dish Project, a Concordia-based group that lends out reusable dishes for events and meetings.

“As soon as I came to Montreal, I was so excited that I had actually picked a city that has all these sustainability initiatives,” said Papp, who is an Australian exchange student. What she has noticed in her time here is that “Montreal has an amazing urban agriculture scene, which we really don’t have in Australia, which is funny because we definitely have an environment that is more suited to that.”

To start off the workshop’s activities, participants compiled a list of the environmental and social problems associated with modern food systems. This list included polluted water, trade redundancies and waste, soil degradation and biodiversity loss, food insecurity and a lack of money in the agriculture industry as well as a tendency for unhealthy diets.

Students answered important questions concerning food justice around campus. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

According to Papp, the significant lack of healthy food in certain regions is attributed to “food deserts,” where there are few easily-accessible supermarkets. “What are in food deserts are usually lots of fast food restaurants—there is lots of food, but it’s all unhealthy with no access to any healthy food,” she said.

The audience members also discussed how a lack of local farming and fair trade—due to centralized food systems—makes it difficult, if not impossible, for small farmers to enter the industry. “In Quebec, there are quotas on how much needs to be [produced on farms],” Papp explained. “There are small farmers that want to get in the industry, but since they can’t make these quotas, they can’t start these farms.”

The audience was then asked a central question: What is food justice, and what would a just food system look like? Participants came up with a list of important factors: educating the community about sustainable food practices; not throwing out misshapen produce; creating more affordable food options; and consuming food responsibly—particularly seasonal eating.  “We’re used to having apples all year round, but there is actually a season for them,” Papp explained.

After the audience voiced their suggestions, Provencal and Papp presented a definition of food justice: “A food system that is inclusive, community-wise and participatory without the exploitation of people, land or the environment. It identifies significant structural connectedness that exists within our food and economic systems.”

Participants then gathered in groups to discuss how different social identities are impacted by the food system. In one group was Anna Luiza Farias, a Brazilian student from São Paulo studying forest engineering. “I am interested in agriculture and food, and I thought it would be really nice to come here and meet people to see what they think,” she said.

Farias explained that the Amazon rainforest is a prominent issue for Brazilian agriculture. “In the Amazon, it is illegal to remove forest land,” she said. “But they are taking this land to use it for cattle farms because the land there is cheaper. People don’t know that this land belongs to the Amazon.”

Students and community members discussed the current eating habits around campus. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

Although the workshop focused on the roots of our flawed foot system—notably colonialism, capitalism, industrialization, exploitation and overpopulation—it also explored solutions. Participants eagerly discussed projects geared toward community restoration, reconnecting youth with food, holding ourselves accountable for our consumption choices, supporting local businesses and farms, and initiating conversations about food sustainability.

According to Papp, she has never seen a student-led conference about food anywhere before. “It’s definitely an unsexy topic, but it’s one of the most important topics because we all eat, and [our current food system] is a huge contributor to climate change in the world.”

For more information on all Concordia student-run food groups on campus, visit:  


First Voices Week wraps up

Deborah McGregor’s keynote address was part of Concordia’s annual First Voices Week

Concordia University’s First Voices Week wrapped up with a keynote address from Osgoode Hall Law School’s Deborah McGregor, who discussed sustainability, environmental justice and indigenous law.

McGregor, a First Nation educator who focuses on the application of indigenous knowledge systems to legal and policy contexts, was introduced by Shiann Wahéhshon Whitebean, the leader of Concordia’s First Voices, the group that organizes the annual First Voices Week.

McGregor’s keynote address, “Indigenous Environmental Justice, Knowledge and Law,” was open to staff, students and the general public in the Hall building on Concordia’s downtown campus. McGregor’s address focused on legal and environmental issues affecting Indigenous communities in Canada and abroad.

McGregor began her speech by acknowledging that Concordia University stands on unceded Mohawk territory. Unceded territory is land that belonged to First Nation peoples that has not been officially and legally surrendered. Land acknowledgements have become popular gestures on university campuses, but McGregor emphasized that an acknowledgement is something more complex and significant than a mere act of political correctness.

“I take land acknowledgements very seriously, not just as a token gesture,” McGregor said. “It’s not just something to say. It means something. It’s based on thousands of years of knowledge and caretaking.”

McGregor went on to discuss the definition of knowledge through an indigenous lens, and explored a number of environmental issues affecting First Nation communities. McGregor explained how, in many First Nation communities, all knowledge is considered to be both a noun and a verb, and that gaining knowledge from elders, communities and the physical environment is just as important as knowledge itself. McGregor believes this perspective shifts the idea of knowledge from something personal to something community-based.

McGregor’s talk also touched on the issue of natural resources and overconsumption in modern society. McGregor believes that the environmental issues affecting indigenous communities, such as the well-publicized North Dakota Access Pipeline, begin when people value profit and consumption more than the safety of other people and the environment. This ideology is in stark contrast with the beliefs of many First Nation communities, who are often victims and vocal opponents of such projects.

McGregor recalled that, during her upbringing in McGregor Bay in Northern Ontario, her community would focus not only on what they could gain from their natural resources, but also on what “gift” they could give back to their environment and community. She used her family’s sugar bush as an example. She claims that, rather than profiting off the maple syrup they produced, her family used it to provide for her community while protecting the farm from overuse.

“You can’t live a good life unless you’re considering all the other beings as well,” said McGregor.

She also noted that, while the issues of indigenous sovereignty and environmentalism are complex, and solutions to these issues are not easy or straightforward, everyone is capable of showing gratitude to the environment. We are all capable of making choices to either help or harm the resources available to us, she said.

“Some of us are the heroes, some of us are the villains… but we are all in this story,” McGregor said.

Graphic by Florence Yee

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