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Anastasia Boldireff’s case goes to the Human Rights Tribunal

The Concordia PhD student finally receives justice on gender discrimination complaint filed against the two officers in her case.

Since 2019, Concordia PhD student Anastasia Boldireff has been demanding justice for the discrimination she had suffered at the hands of two police officers who discriminated her during her criminal harassment case. Now, she’s finally receiving it.

On March 1 of this year, Boldireff’s complaint against the two officers was upheld by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission and taken to the Human Rights Tribunal. 

In October 2019, Boldireff was stalked by a non-Concordia student. Her stalker followed her on Concordia campus and eventually assaulted her in broad daylight. 

She went to the police station where she was told to come back later. Boldireff returned with a Concordia security guard after she had made a statement with Concordia security. The Concordia security guard was asked to leave. The officer asked her to answer questions that he wrote on a clipboard and slid to her underneath the plexiglass. 

Upon answering each question, she returned the clipboard, and the officer wrote down another question. Each time she tried to talk with the officer and explain that she was scared, the officer asked her to write it down. It was only when she told the officer “Don’t you want his phone number?” that the officer wrote down a question requesting the phone number of the accused. Boldireff asked “Is he in the system?” and she said that the officer nodded and looked surprised and left.  

The officer returned with his supervisor. The officer’s supervisor then entered the room and asked Boldireff more questions about the accused. 

“I had just written it down, but I was asked to repeat myself. I described [the stalker] to the best of my ability, and the officer had his arms crossed. He was leaning back and he said, ‘Well, he sounds like a good-looking man, a soccer player. Why don’t you go on a date with him?’ and then he laughed,” Boldireff said.

She asked for an escort home since she didn’t feel safe, to which one of the officers asked: ‘Well, is he [the stalker] there now?” She told him that she was scared for her life and he rejected her access to a safe ride home. Realizing the officers wouldn’t provide the support she needed, Boldireff asked if there was any other advice they could give her before leaving. Boldireff said that the supervisor said, ‘you should consider what you’re wearing’. 

“It was a terrible interaction and things escalated from there [with the suspect] and I wasn’t provided the immediate support or sense of dignity,” she said. 

After that interaction, Boldireff filed a complaint with the Police Ethics Commissioner. It wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that she got in touch with the Concordia Student Union Legal Information Clinic (LIC). They immediately put her in touch with the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) to receive the help she desperately needed. CRARR filed a complaint on her behalf against the two officers for gender discrimination, stating that they were “violating her right to equality, dignity, and security of the person,” as was detailed in the press release. 

“I don’t think there’s any excuse for a police officer to not treat a victim of crime, of any crime, without the basic need for dignity,” Boldireff said.

Now, the Human Rights Commission upheld her complaint against the two officers. In CRARR’s press release sent to The Concordian, the commission is asking for “$8,000 in moral damages from the City of Montreal and the two officers, and $2,500 in punitive damages from the two officers.”

The commission is also asking for training on the reality lived by people who file complaints for crimes involving sexual violence to be implemented for police officers. This is to ensure that there’s no gender-based stereotypes in the handling of these cases. 

After years of searching for help, Boldireff felt a sense of justice being served following this decision.

“It makes me feel supported. It makes me feel that if the Human Rights Commission is supporting this case, then fundamentally they’re supporting the belief that women should not experience [derogatory] gender-based comments at a police station,” Boldireff said. 

She’s continuing to advocate for safe spaces for victims who go to report their sexual violence cases, and for them to have guidance from social services such as CRARR.

She continues to voice how imperative it is that “victims should be believed when they’re coming forward, believed and supported, especially by the police who were meant to serve and protect [them],” Boldireff said.

As grateful as Boldireff is for the Human Rights Commission’s decision being in her favour, she is still waiting on the Administrative Police Ethics Tribunal’s decision from the hearings of her case last fall.

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News

Black student accosted, then arrested at Stinger’s Dome

After his complaint against was disregarded, the Concordia student must face court.

It all started on Dec. 23, 2023, when a Black second-year student was playing soccer, a common occurrence, in the Stinger Dome at Loyola. Due to the ongoing criminal case, we will not disclose the student’s real name and will instead use “John” as an alias. The student’s daily routine came to a halt when a staff person at the dome played referee for the student’s game, resulting in a violent altercation that ultimately led to the student’s arrest. Now, the student is due in court on March 12, and is being supported by the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).

When John was playing soccer in the Stingers Dome alone, which he’s been doing for a while now, a staff person came up to him, telling him he wasn’t allowed to be there, and demanded to see his student ID. 

“[The staff person] said to me, ‘What are you doing on the field?’ I said that I’m from Concordia, and that I have been training on the field for a long time. He asked for my ID and he still told me that I couldn’t play,” John said.

A teacher at the Loyola High School who knew John came to his defense, advising the staff person that John was allowed to stay. 

Two days later, John returned to the field for another practice when that same staff person approached him, telling him that he was not allowed to play, and threatened to call security.

John asked the staff member why he was calling security. “I have the right to play, I’m not a danger,’” John replied. 

“Then we start to discuss, I explain my situation in English,” he said. “It’s not my first language, I don’t fully express my words very well, and I don’t know why but he started making fun of my English.”

The staff person proceeded to make racist comments, stating that he should “return to your country like all immigrants” and that he’s “not a real Canadian.” The staff person then called security, pulled out his phone and started recording John.

John knocked the phone out of the staff person’s hands to stop him from recording. He didn’t understand why the staff member was taking extreme measures this second time, when two days earlier, they already resolved the issue. 

“There were other members of the staff that I saw a year ago and they asked me for the ID and I continued playing, no problem,” John said. “There are other people who are not even from Concordia who play on the field, there is no problem. So, why are you calling the police on me?”

The staff person picked up the phone off the ground and continued filming John, who repeatedly said that he didn’t want to be filmed. The situation escalated when the staff person punched John in the face. As the fighting continued, players from the Stingers soccer team saw the altercation and separated the two. 

“Afterwards, [campus] security came, they came to see the staff member. I explained to them that the staff member insulted me and that he attacked me. But they didn’t want to listen to me,” John said. 

When the police arrived, John and the staff person were each given a complaint sheet for security. The staff person gave his paper to the police without any problems, but John couldn’t.

“I was writing my complaint when the police came up to me and told me that I am under arrest,” John said. “I said ‘I have my complaint sheet, can I give it to you?’ They didn’t take it, they arrested me entirely. They asked me for my wallet, my phone, my personal information, all that.”

Fo Niemi, executive director of CRARR, will file the complaint on John’s behalf to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission next week. When a student experiences an incident tainted by racial, gender, or homophobic bias, Niemi encourages students to take that action to strengthen their case. John’s is no exception.

“Because fundamentally, it’s about the rights to equality, the rights to safety, and the right to the safeguard of their dignity,” Niemi said. “In [John’s] case, we believe that there were many elements that were present during the incident that jeopardized the rights of the student.” 

In 2022, Concordia published their final version of the Task Force on Anti-Black Racism to promote Black excellence and to protect Black and Brown students on campus. Despite this milestone accomplishment, Niemi intends to look at John’s case as an example to identify what more needs to change to ensure the safety of these students.

“We are to take this opportunity to look at where things are at in terms of anti-Black racism and actions that the university has committed itself to set in place in order to prevent race-based incidents like what happened to John,” Niemi said.

John hopes that the complaint sent to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms will help him for the outcome of his case. John is set to appear in court on March 12.

Corrections:

  • In a previous version of this article, in paragraph 15, it was written that “Fo Niemi, executive director of CRARR, filed the complaint on John’s behalf to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.” This is not correct. Niemi will file the complaint next week. We apologize to our readers for this mistake and take full responsibility.
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News

Counter-protesters defend trans rights amid outcry of opposing protest

Trans rights groups and anti-trans groups debate what is best for children’s education about gender identity

Five hundred counter-protesters took to the streets of Downtown Montreal on Sept. 20, fighting for trans people’s rights against the opposing protest “1 Million March 4 Children,” that seeks to advocate the “elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.”

Both protests took place nationwide, accompanied by 61 counter-protests. 

Anti-trans protesters chanted “Leave our children alone” and “Parents know best” in the direction of counter-protesters, who they believe are trying to “indoctrinate their children with sexualization” according to their website. 

Celeste Trianon is a trans jurist, organizer of the “No Space for Hate” protest and one of the two national coordinators of the same campaign. She has dedicated her life to standing up for trans rights and creating an environment where they feel safe and accepted.

“There is no space for hate across Canada, and we’ve historically been one of the safest countries for 2SLGBTQ+ people across the world and we want to make sure that continues,” Trianon said. 

“Remember, our Canadian Charter has protected us [the 2SLGBTQ+ community] since the 80s. Where have all those values gone? Let’s not dismantle our Charter and the very things that make us Canadian.”

Corey Kutner, a trans person studying at Concordia, attended the counter-protest. They do not agree with the way the trans community is being presented to children. 

“A lot of people are falsely equating being trans and educating children about what it means to be trans with really awful things like being a pedophile, a groomer. I just want to do my part of combating that misinformation and standing up for trans people everywhere,” Kutner said. 

Caroline Raraujo moved from Brazil to protect her and her sons rights to be a part of the LGBTQIA+, she shares that she thinks it’s ridiculous she still has to do this in Canada as well. Kaitlynn Rodney/ The Concordian

Trans rights protesters walked down Sainte-Catherine holding signs such as “Protect Trans Kids,” “We Were Always Proud,” and “Trans people have always existed,” while chanting “Trans Rights are Human Rights.” While there were 750 anti-trans protesters, they were drowned out by the trans rights protesters, who made sure their message of solidarity was clear. 

“I’m hoping that everyone will just be able to get a better idea of just how many people there are out here who want to fight for transliteration and that it is a loud minority that is in opposition,” Kutner said.

Caroline Raraujo, a mother from Brazil, came to support the fight on behalf of her son, who came out as trans at the age of 16. She was actively involved in the 2SLGBTQ+ fight in Brazil and moved to Canada for a better life for the two of them. 

“Since he came out as a trans boy, I’m acting like a shield and I’m going to protect him. I’m going to protect him wherever they try to remove his rights or attack him. And not just him, but all the trans community,” Raraujo said.

Trianon ended her interview by addressing the public:

“To our queer and trans teens, kids, adults, and elders: you are seen, you are welcome. You are welcome here in Canada, and for us, as long as we can continue making sure that you are safe here, we’re going to do everything we can in our power to make sure you are not just welcomed, but loved.”

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News

Poli SAVVY: Is pushing for traditional values in a modern world the way to leadership?

BREAKING NEWS: There are still entitled men in politics.

On one side, we have potential Conservative candidate for the leadership, Richard Décarie who, during an interview with CTVs Power Play on Wednesday, said “LGBTQ” “is a Liberal term” and that being gay “is a choice.” He then said Canadians must encourage traditional values that have served us in the past, encouraging the defunding of abortion services and reinforcing the idea that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Then, on Friday, not too far from us, Trump became the first U.S. President to walk in the largest annual anti-abortion rally, the 47th March for Life in Washington.

I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was the 18th century?

While Trump’s decision might actually help him win the 2020 election, as a big part of his electoral voters are evangelical Christians who stand firmly against abortion, a Pew Research Centre survey conducted in the summer revealed that 61 per cent of Americans believe abortion should be legal and are concerned that some states are making it hard to access.

And over here, Décarie just gave a quick crash course on “how to lose an election in Canada.”

Federal elections have displayed over and over again that the Conservatives’ weak spots are their social values being out of tune with Canadian ones. More recently, Scheer’s stance on such topics hasn’t quite helped him win voters––au contraire.

A few Tories, such as frontrunner for leadership Peter Mackay, were quick to denounce the comments on Twitter. Still, Décarie’s reductive and ignorant remarks highlight exactly how replacing Scheer won’t necessarily erase the mentality that runs deep within the Conservative Party. Last October, in a post-election analysis, the co-founder of the anti-abortion group RightNow, Alissa Golob, proudly said they were able to elect at least 68 “pro-lifers” out of the 121 current members of the Conservative caucus.

What’s that expression again? Beware of who’s pulling the strings. 

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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News

What experts think about human rights violations in China

A panel on China’s human rights violations was held in Concordia University’s Faubourg building on Jan. 15.

The experts, who were invited by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS), expressed concerns about the Uyghur Muslim concentration camps in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in Western China. They also discussed the brutal repression in Hong Kong and Tibet, as well as China’s increasing influence on the Western world and its implication for the future of democracy.

The event took place just days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director Kenneth Roth was denied entry into Hong Kong and HRW’s launch event for its World Report 2020 was disrupted by protestors, according to MIGS executive director Kyle Matthews.

“Human rights issues in China are nothing new,” said speaker Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, Senior Fellow at both the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy and the University of Alberta’s China Institute. She listed historical events such as the Cultural Revolution, the Xidan Democracy Wall, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre which she said “trampled on individual human rights in a myriad of ways.”

McCuaig-Johnston continued to explain that although China has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty since 1978, this is not the same as ensuring individual human rights. She described how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses detention as a pressure tactic against dissidents and the abusive conditions under which they are detained, which were revealed by HRW’s interviews with former prisoners. She also explained the social credit system, in place since 2014, and the CCP’s widespread interference in Western countries.

Both McCuaig-Johnston and Benjamin Fung, a Canada Research Chair in Data Mining for Cybersecurity and an Action Free Hong Kong Montreal activist, highlighted the CCP’s infiltration in Canadian academics and described the pressure on faculty and Chinese students to self-censor criticism of the Chinese government.

The CCP’s use of technology, such as facial and voice recognition for repression, was also extensively discussed by both experts. Fung additionally focused on Chinese companies’ goal to expand the 5G network––he explained that the CCP controls every large corporation in China and that technology companies are obligated to cooperate with Chinese intelligence units.

“It’s about trust, you trust Apple to update your iPhone because it is a private company,” Fung explained, adding that we cannot trust Chinese companies who would introduce malware into the 5G network if the CCP asked them to.

Fung also spoke in detail about China’s one country, two systems policy and the CCP’s broken promise: its decision to maintain control over Hong Kong’s government instead of allowing universal suffrage, which Fung asserts was promised in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. He described what he called an ongoing humanitarian crisis and a system of police brutality, lengthy prison sentences, sexual assault, and white terror––attacks on pro-democracy activists.

The situation in Tibet was discussed by Sherap Therchin, executive director of the Canada-Tibet Committee, who explained it has been 70 years since China illegally invaded Tibet, and the Western world seems to have forgotten about it. He described the CCP’s reflexive control strategy: how they have been feeding manufactured information about Tibet to target groups so consistently that the Western world now believes their narrative that Tibet was historically part of China.

Therchin continued to explain that in the Western world’s eyes, control over Tibet is now an internal issue––a problem for China to deal with without Western influence.

Finally, Dilmurat Mahmut, a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University’s Faculty of Education, talked about the Uyghur re-education camps in place since 2017. According to documents obtained through an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an estimated 1 million Uyghur Muslims are detained in these camps, but Mahmut said these numbers could be as high as 3 million. He explained the history of the region of Xinjiang, originally East Turkistan, and the CCP’s labeling of all Turkic Muslims in the region as potential terrorists or pre-criminals.

Mahmut described the conditions in what the CCP calls vocational training centres, and explained that Uyghur children are being forcibly detained and sent to state-run orphanages where they are forbidden from learning the Uyghur language and, instead, only learn the Chinese culture—he called this cultural genocide. Mahmut finished his presentation with a warning from Roth on the dangers of not challenging Chinese human rights abuses and worldwide interference.

 

Photos by Brittany Clarke

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Briefs News

World in brief: China’s mass detention of Muslim, Koalas killed by fires, and Indigenous collaboration on Frozen II

On Nov. 24, leaked classified documents showed China’s strategic plan of mass detention for ethnic minorities. They were obtained and verified by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in collaboration with CBC News and other media organizations around the world. Identified as the China Cables, the documents describe the large-scale incarceration and brainwashing of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang province. Adrian Zenz, a leading researcher on the Uighur crisis, estimates that more than 1.8 million Uighurs are or have been imprisoned over the last three years. “What we are looking at in Xinjiang is probably the largest internment of an ethno-religious minority since the Holocaust,” said Zenz, in an interview with CBC

Record-breaking fires continue to devastate Australia’s East coast as yet another heatwave worsened the situation last week. Various media reported that more than 1 million hectares of New South Wales and Queensland have been ripped apart by the devastating bushfires which destroyed more than 300 homes. While bushfire season is not uncommon for the country due to dry weather, several scientists agree that this year is abnormally overwhelming, and for all types of lives. The chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, Deborah Tabart, estimates that over 1,000 koalas weren’t able to flee the fires and lost their lives, reported the Daily Mail.

Disney is fostering Indigenous collaborations with Frozen II as it hit the theatre over the weekend. Critics over cultural appropriation from the first movie adopting Scandinavia’s Indigenous Sámi culture led the Hollywood magnate to work on the sequel with a team of Sámi experts from Norway, Sweden, and Finland, as reported by CBC. The group was constituted of Sámi artists, historians, elders and politicians. They were consulted on the historical aspect of the storyline, the costumes and the songs to ensure that their culture would be properly represented onscreen.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Opinions

Struggle is intersectional

After more than a century of quiet cowardice, the United States House of Representatives voted to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, condemning the killing of 1.5 million Armenians and other Christians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.

405 members of Congress voted in solidarity with Armenians while 11 voted against the resolution and three abstained. A nearly unanimous, bipartisan House vote raises the question: why has it taken more than 100 years for Congress to form this consensus?

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the only Democrat to abstain from voting rather than recognize the genocide, calls the vote a “cudgel in a political fight” against Turkey, amid tensions involving military operations in Syria. According to Omar, the genocide should be recognized “based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics.” The Congresswoman also used the vote as an opportunity to call for a “true acknowledgement of historical crimes against humanity” which addresses not only the Armenian Genocide, but also the transatlantic slave trade and systematic murder of Indigenous people.

According to academic consensus, the Armenian Genocide accounts for some of the most brutal instances of human rights abuses in history. Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the word “genocide,” named the mass murder of Armenians as a definitive example of the term. Over 30 countries announced solidarity with Armenians prior to the United States in the wake of violence experienced by their ancestors as well as the continued violence perpetrated by genocide deniers.

It’s naive of Omar to suggest that the Armenian Genocide could exist “outside the push and pull of geopolitics.” The mass extermination of a group of people doesn’t happen by accident; it’s calculated, organized, and entirely political. The fact that Turkey, along with many other countries, will not acknowledge the struggles of Armenian people to have their history recognized, emphasizes the importance of the House’s decision to vote.

Perhaps this is what’s so jarring about Omar’s position; instead of acknowledging the collective trauma involved in a 100-year-old contested genocide, the Congresswoman uses the House as a soapbox to speak over the issue at hand, advocating instead on behalf of black and Indigenous people and the systematic violence they have faced. Although black and Indigenous struggle in America predates the Armenian Genocide – not to mention both groups continue to face discrimination and violence – it’s hypocritical to advocate for an intersectional call to arms encompassing all genocides only to abstain from voting in solidarity with Armenians. Intersectionality and solidarity involves showing up for one another; the House has passed resolutions recognizing the struggles of black and Indigenous people in America before, but this is the first affirming the Armenian genocide.

Though America is not the first country to pass this kind of resolution, its position encourages a dialogue about accountability and solidarity which  may motivate other countries to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide in the future. 

Graphic @sundaeghost

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Student Life

Artificial Intelligence as an agent of change

AI and human rights forum generates global discussions

On April 5, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) hosted the Human Rights and Artificial Intelligence Forum in Concordia’s 4th Space.

“Because we’ve done some work with Global Affairs Canada, the Dutch Foreign Ministry, and worked directly with different companies, we thought ‘let’s try to get a discussion going,’” said Kyle Matthews, MIGS’s executive director, about the event. Panelists from across the globe, some of whom Skyped in remotely, convened to give their expertise on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology with regards to human rights in different scopes.

“I’m happy we’ve generated discussions, that we’re connecting students and researchers of Concordia to practitioners in private sectors and in government,” said Matthews. “MIGS works on cutting edge issues with human rights and global affairs. We see, because Montreal is becoming the AI centre of the world, that there’s a unique opportunity for us to play a part in elevating the human rights discussion on a whole set of issues and conflicts.”

The Human Rights and AI Forum was held on April 5 at Concordia’s 4th Space. Photo by Hannah Ewen.

Troll Patrol: fighting abuse against women on Twitter

From London, Tanya O’Carroll, director of Amnesty Tech at Amnesty International, spoke about the innovation of AI in researching and crowdsourcing to enforce human rights.

Amnesty Tech’s Troll Patrol was a language decoding program that filtered hate speech towards female journalists and politicians on Twitter. The AI found instances ranging from sexism and racism, homophobia and Islamophobia, and more, with the majority aimed at women in minority groups.

The AI worked in tandem with volunteer human decoders, whom O’Carroll said are an important part of the loop. O’Carroll explained how the issue isn’t that Twitter doesn’t have a terms of abuse policy—it does, and it’s called “The Twitter Rules.” The issue is they don’t have enough moderators, which O’Carroll called their “business decision.”

The AI accurately predicted and identified only 52 per cent of abusive content on Twitter. O’Carroll acknowledged that, while this isn’t perfect, it’s valuable in challenging the data and bringing change to human rights issues on a large scale.

Emerging technologies in the public sector with a human-centric approach

During Enzo Maria Le Fevre Cervini’s panel, the major topic was governance. Le Fevre Cervini works with emerging technologies and international relations for the Agency for Digital Italy.

Le Fevre Cervini said the fourth revolution of AI is based on data gathered from the public sector, which emphasizes the need to focus on the quality and the quantity of data. The ethical dimensions should be less about the technology and more about its product—there needs to be a reassessment of AI as technology that can play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between parts of society.

Prometea, an AI software, quickly processes legal complaints at the DA’s office in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The complaints are compared to similar cases and the accused is either appointed a judicial hearing or not, according to the results. With just the DA computer system, it could take someone 30 minutes to get through 15 documents. With Prometea, all documents in the system are processed in two minutes.

“Technology is a major agent of change,” said Le Fevre Cervini, which is why he hopes governance of AI will change to allow the opportunity for technology to be more human-centred and widely available.

The series of panels was organized by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights (MIGS). Photo by Hannah Ewen.

Ethics and AI

“There’s an assumption that AI will be smarter than humans, but they’re just good at narrow tasks,” said Mirka Snyder Caron, an associate at the Montreal AI Ethics Institute.

During her panel, Snyder Caron spoke about behaviour nudging, such as those little reply boxes at the bottom of an email on your Gmail account. While it may be easy, it’s “terribly convenient” because you’re just recycling what you’ve already done—the prompts are based on general replies and your previous emails.

Snyder Caron emphasized that it’s important to remember that AI systems are still just machines that “can be fooled” or “experience confusion.” She gave an example of an AI system that was unable to identify a stop sign covered in graffiti or one with squares concealing part of the word so it didn’t stop.

“Machine learning can adopt status quo based on patterns and classifications because of biases,” said Snyder Caron. To avoid problems such as discrimination, there needs to be increased diversity at the beginning of the AI process. For example, having a diversity of people inputting data could remove a layer of biases.

Bias, feminism and the campaign to stop killer robots

Erin Hunt, a humanitarian disarmament expert and program manager at Mines Action Canada, spoke about the darker side of AI—the dangers, in particular, of autonomous weapons.

With regards to autonomous weapons, aka Killer Robots, Hunt asked: “How are we sure they won’t distinguish atypical behavior?” Because they sometimes can’t distinguish between civilians and combatants, they don’t conform to human rights laws.

Hunt spoke about how biases lead to mistakes, and presented an example of a study of AI identification where 34.7 per cent of dark-skinned women were identified as men. Some AI target people that shouldn’t be targeted, such as people with disabilities. For example, there are regions of the world where people don’t have access to prosthetic limbs and use wood or metal as substitutes. This could be picked up by the AI as a rifle, thus having failed its job.

Technical difficulties with Skype during the panel further enforced Hunt’s point that if we can’t get a simple call from Ottawa to go through, we shouldn’t have autonomous weapons.

Zachary Devereaux (pictured) is the director of public sector services at Nexalogy. Photo by Hannah Ewen.

AI and disinformation campaigns

Zachary Devereaux, director of public sector services at Nexalogy, said there are two ways to train AI: supervised, which “requires human annotated data that the machine can extrapolate from to do the same types of judgement itself,” and unsupervised machine learning, where machines autonomously decide what judgement is necessary.

“Once you see a suggestion from AI as to what you should reply on your email, or once you see a suggestion from AI on how you should complete your sentence, you can’t unsee it,” said Devereaux.

“As humans, we’re so intellectually lazy—automated processes: we love them and we accept them,” said Devereaux. But because of this, the behaviour nudging Snyder Caron spoke about becomes cyclical, such as with Spotify and Google Home. “It’s our feedback to these systems that’s training AI to be smarter.”

AI and the rules-based international order

“Artificial intelligence should be grounded in human rights,” said Tara Denham, director of the Democracy Unit at Global Affairs Canada.

Denham acknowledged that AI makes mistakes, which can enforce discriminatory practices. It is an important question to ask how AI is already impacting biases and how they impact the future, seeing as “the future is evolving at an incredibly fast pace,” said Denham. One challenge is using systems that will amplify discriminatory practices, especially in growing countries who might not have the ability to work around them, according to Denham.

“When talking about ethics, they cannot be negotiated on an international level,” said Denham. Each country has their own ethics framework which may not be accepted or practiced elsewhere. In this scope, it’s important to have a common language and concepts to advance negotiations about human rights globally.

Feature photo by Hannah Ewen

Categories
Opinions

Editorial: China’s censorship doesn’t have a place at Concordia

On March 26, Concordia University held a conference led by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS), where Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uighur Congress, spoke. Isa is an Uighur activist who often speaks at conferences highlighting the ongoing human rights violations Uighur Muslims in China face.

Kyle Matthews, Executive Director of MIGS, told The Concordian: “Before the event, we started to see reports in the media that showed [the] Chinese government and some Chinese students disrupting any events about human rights abuses involving the Uighur or the Tibetans. We were kind of concerned about that and thought our event would get cancelled.”

While the event wasn’t cancelled, a day before it took place, Matthews received an email from the Chinese consul general in Montreal. In the email, Matthews was asked for an urgent meeting to discuss the event and their point of view. Matthews ignored the email, but on the day of the event, he found out that the Chinese consul general was pressuring different people in Montreal to cancel the event.

Matthews decided to ignore the email, and the event still took place with two security officers present to ensure there were no disruptions. In an article by La Presse, the Chinese consul general admitted that he pressured Montreal to cancel the event, saying students shouldn’t be exposed to terrorism. “He made some very bizarre references to the Christchurch terrorism case in New Zealand,” said Matthews. “It didn’t make sense because our speaker wasn’t some member of the far right; he’s actually a Muslim Uighur minority from China.”

This idea of linking Uighur Muslims to terrorism isn’t new—in fact, China has claimed they are dealing with threats and violence from separatist Islamist groups in Xinjiang, but human rights groups argue differently. In 2009, riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, killed 200 people, most of whom were Han Chinese—numerous attacks have occurred since then, according to BBC News. Human rights groups argue that this violence erupted from China’s oppression of Uighur Muslims, and these violent events were used by the Chinese government to crack down on Uighur Muslims in February 2017, according to the same source.

Evidence highlights that more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in China are detained in what resembles a “massive internment camp,” according to BBC News. In these camps, detainees are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, renounce their Islamic faith, and swear loyalty to the Communist Party of China and President Xi Jinping, according to the same source.

At first, China ignored the camps’ existence—but in October 2018, Chinese officials legalized “education camps” with the goal of eradicating extremism, according to Vox. Instead of referring to these detainment centres for what they are, the Chinese government has called them “re-education” centres that are meant to fend off terrorism, according to BBC News. Millions of people have disappeared, and Uighur Muslims are under surveillance, according to Vox. Not only that, but officials say these “re-education” centres offer classes on topics such as Chinese history and culture, and have said that inmates are “happier” after their imprisonment, according to CNN. Yet, various camp survivors have said they were physically tortured for the purpose of brainwashing, were sleep deprived, isolated without food and water, and were subject to waterboarding, according to Vox.

It is difficult to know every detail of what Uighur Muslims are currently going through, as China’s lack of freedom of press hinders journalists’ ability to report freely. “What’s deeply troubling is that China is exporting its authoritarianism to Western countries,” said Matthews. “This is the third case of Chinese political interference in events happening at Canadian universities. One was at the University of Toronto, one was at McMaster, and now Concordia comes to number three.”

We at The Concordian believe this situation further highlights how urgent it is for us to discuss what is happening in Xinjiang. We’re proud of our university for offering its security services to ensure the conference took place. The ongoing violation of human rights for Uighur Muslims in China is an issue that must be continuously spoken about. Censorship has no place in Canada, or in Canadian universities—we at The Concordian hope to see this conversation continue and bring change.

Graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee

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Roméo Dallaire to youth at TEDx Concordia: “Why don’t we lead the pack?”

Human rights icon encourages TEDxConcordia audience to be agents of change

Canada’s young people have the power and responsibility to be agents of change in the world, according to lieutenant general Roméo Dallaire.

The author and champion of human rights spoke at TEDxConcordia, an independently organized TED conference with the theme “Welcome to the Next Generation,” on Sept. 24. He called on the mostly-young audience to harness the power of modern communication technology, as well as their voting power, to take on global challenges.

“One of the great advantages that [today’s young people] have is that they’ve mastered a tool that none of us have ever had before,” Dallaire said, referring to modern communication technology and social media.

“We [were never global’ before],” he said. “Now, we can actually communicate in real time. With that extraordinary technological revolution, we should be maximizing it.”

He also encouraged young Canadians to take full advantage of their right to vote, saying that “if they all voted, they would actually hold the balance of power in this country.”

Dallaire criticized the Canadian government for not having a clear vision of its own future and place in the world, especially on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. “Where do we [see] this country, this Canada, in a global environment? What can it do to advance humanity?” he said. “It is in the hands of you, the young people, to articulate the absolute essentiality of giving that focus and moving beyond our borders.”

Since his time as force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the Rwandan genocide, Dallaire has become a globally-recognized champion of human rights. His 2004 memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil, which criticized the global response to the Rwandan genocide, was a national bestseller and recipient of several awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award.

He also founded an organization, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which works with governments, militaries and police forces around the world to promote non-lethal strategies for dealing with child soldiers on the battlefield.

Dallaire encouraged the young people in the audience to take on this cause as well. Describing the plight of child soldiers around the globe, he said, “In so many countries in the world, your peers are the ones being absorbed and becoming the victims and actually being destroyed by the decisions of adults.”

He said that, while there is a system of international laws designed to protect children, “there’s not much in the field to actually implement it.”

According to Dallaire, in at least 17 current conflicts around the world, “we are seeing tens of thousands of children being used as the primary weapon, of which 40 per cent are girls.” He said these children are recruited for a number of purposes, from front-line fighting to sex slavery. “There’s something fundamentally, morally corrupt about the world for permitting that.”

Dallaire concluded his talk by saying he is hopeful that one day the use of children on the battlefield will be not only eliminated, but will be deemed “unthinkable.”

Feature photo by Mackenzie Lad

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Detained, harmed and forgotten: The Canadian prisoners of conscience

Many Canadians around the world remain detained, some denied human rights

Last week, Concordia welcomed back professor Homa Hoodfar after being detained for 112 days in Evin Prison. However, thousands of Canadians still remain incarcerated for unjust reasons and are denied basic human rights, as Hoodfar was.

In fact, as of Feb. 5, 2016, 1,457 Canadians were being detained abroad, according to Global Affairs Canada  991 in the United States, 237 in Asia and Oceania, 110 in South and Central America, 78 in Europe and 41 in Africa and the Middle East. These numbers include detainees in international jails, prisons and detention centres.

Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada’s secretary general, said the number of Canadians being detained and denied their human rights has risen in the last decade. “Over the last 10-plus years, there’s been a rapidly growing number of such cases,” said Neve, adding that this is due to a number of factors –– one being that people simply travel more frequently.

Neve said statistics of how many Canadians detained who are experiencing a violation of their human rights and have a risk of being tortured are hard to obtain. The Concordian reached out to Global Affairs for statistics, however they did not respond before the deadline of this article.

Neve said there has also been more unsettlement in the world since 9/11. “There’s a lot of people who are arrested on so-called national security grounds,” said Neve. “Sometimes Canadians have been swept up in thatso it’s starting to become a more regular occurrence.”

Neve said over the past few years there has been more attention brought to Canadians being imprisoned foreignly and more pressure put on the Canadian government regarding their efforts to free Canadians who are imprisoned in foreign countries and face a lack of human rights. He said this increased attention is due to the rising number of Canadians who find themselves in these situations.

“Twenty years ago it had been pretty unlikely that there would be a Canadian who’s actually a prisoner of conscience in another country, or a Canadian who is facing a serious risk of torture in another country,” said Neve.

Jacob Kuehn, Amnesty International Canada’s media and external communications officer, explained that a case only qualifies for Amnesty’s intervention when the individual is a prisoner of consciencein other words, someone imprisoned solely for exercising their human rights, when there’s no justification for their detention, he said. In such cases, Amnesty will advocate for their release.

In addition, Amnesty advocates for cases where the prisoner is at risk of human rights violations, such as torture or facing the death penalty, even if they are not a prisoner of conscience. “In that case, we’d advocate on their behalf, as well,” said Kuehn. “Not necessarily for their immediate and unconditional release, but certainly for due process.”

Kuehn said Amnesty International Canada advocated for Homa Hoodfar’s immediate and unconditional release from the beginning. “We launched a campaign in the early days calling the government of Canada to become quickly engaged, and then also we had a campaign that got about 50,000 signatures calling for Iranian authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally,” said Kuehn.

Hoodfar’s case was complicated by the lack of diplomatic ties between Iran and Canada. According to Jocelyn Sweet, a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson, this created significant challenges: the Canadian government relied on alliances with the Omani, Italian and Swiss diplomats. Sweet said that the Canadian government is “working on re-establishing diplomatic ties with Iran. We don’t have a specific timeline on it.”

“We have urged that the government should be reforming our laws and policies in what’s known as the area of consular assistance, to strengthen the kind of assistance the government offers in these kinds of cases,” said Neve. Consular assistance is aid and advice provided by diplomatic agents of a country to citizens of the same country that are abroad.

In January 2016, Amnesty International Canada and Canadian-Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Fahmy presented their Protection Charter to Foreign Affairs Minister, Stéphane Dion.

Mohammed Fahmy was incarcerated for more than 400 days in Cairo, Egypt for charges of terrorism. Fahmy’s case did not receive senior-level government intervention. “The [Harper Government], for instance, wasn’t intervening in ways that everyone else felt would be helpful,” said Neve. The Protection Charter would ensure equal and compulsory consular assistance, according to Amnesty International Canada’s website.

Graphic by Florence Yee.

“One thing that we have highlighted is that there’s a real need for more consistent and dependable senior-level political involvement in very serious cases like this,” he said. Neve said the release of Kevin Garratt––a Canadian held in China for two years for charges of spying and stealing state secrets––and Hoodfar proves senior level engagement can make a difference. “The prime minister was involved and Minister Dion was involved and probably others, but that’s pretty key, to have your prime minister and your foreign minister both personally intervening,” he said.

Neve proposed two ways the public can assist in the liberation of Canadian prisoners of consciencecall for the improvement of the government’s consular practices and take action on individual cases of concern and to contact their member of parliament and request for them to support The Amnesty International Fahmy Foundation Protection Charter.

Neve said there are other cases Canadians can take action on. “For instance, in Iran, there’s a Canadian permanent resident who’s still in prison,” said Neve. “He’s been in prison for many years, his name is Saeed Malekpourwe’re taking action on his case. There are all sorts of other ways to take action on his case online.”

There’s also Huseyin Celil, who’s imprisoned in China and Bashir Makhtal, who’s imprisoned in Ethiopia, Neve said.

To aid in the release of Canadians incarcerated in foreign prisons who face a risk of violation to their human rights, visit and search the names of detained Canadians for specific details on how to help, visit www.amnesty.ca.

Graphic by Florence Yee

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Concordia in solidarity for the release of Homa Hoodfar

Announcers demand Hoodfar’s release after 107 days of imprisonment

Concordia students, faculty and community members gathered across the street from Bethune Square to raise awareness of the incarceration of former Concordia professor, Homa Hoodfar, who has been jailed in Evin prison in Iran for 107 days.

Hayley Lewis, the event organizer, said not only is it unclear what Hoodfar is being charged with, but it is also unclear as to what condition she is currently in. “All that we know is she’s a 65-year-old woman who we love, who has been in prison for 107 days and who is in extremely bad health,” Lewis said.

“Please keep talking about Homa Hoodfar,” Lewis announced to a group of over 100 protesters. “Post about her, write about her—do not let her disappear.” Lewis emphasized the importance of pressing the Canadian and Irish governments to see to Hoodfar’s safe and definite release.

Lewis said Hoodfar suffers from a degenerative neurological disorder that requires medication, but she has not been getting said medication while imprisoned. “She is sick, she is unwell and we need her back,” said Lewis.

Lewis invited guests from the Concordia community to speak—Concordia faculty members, personal friends of Hoodfar and Green Party Leader and Concordia student Alex Tyrrell spoke at the demonstration. They all stood in solidarity for the immediate release of Hoodfar. Lewis also invited the Bread and Puppet theatre, a Vermont-based group, who presented a theatrical political performance to spectators in support of Hoodfar’s safe return home.

Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“We have a moral responsibility to get her home,” said Kimberley Manning, principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute and a member of the recently-organized Homa Hoodfar working group. She said that since Hoodfar’s arrest, the Concordia union faculty association, the Concordia administration and two of Hoodfar’s closest friends have been supporting efforts to free her. However, Manning said they still need lots of help.

“Homa taught here for 30 years, nurturing several decades of students and contributing [in] countless ways to the wellbeing of this institution,” said Manning. “Now it’s our turn to help her.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Manning said action is being taken in Dublin as well, as Concordia professor Emer O’Toole from the department of Irish studies helped mobilize the protest for Hoodfar in front of the Iranian embassy, which took place in Dublin on Sept. 7. “[O’Toole] has been working tirelessly to place pressure on the Irish government to do all they can do to get Homa free,” said Manning.

“Members of the Concordia community and the public should not underestimate the gravity of what’s taking place here,” said Tyrrell. “Her life is on the line.” He added that she has been held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer.

Tyrrell said Hoodfar’s research aimed to help develop an understanding of Muslim women, one of the most discriminated against groups locally and globally. Tyrrell said the community has an obligation to stand up for imprisoned peers and to defend academic freedom around the world.

Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Margie Mendell, Professor and Graduate Program Director for School of Community and Public Affairs and a friend of Hoodfar said we must get Hoodfar home and out of Evin prison. “We will not gather again to say that she has been in Evin prison for 200 days,” Mendell said to the crowd. “We will gather together to welcome her home and to celebrate her freedom.”

Fay Devlin, one of Hoodfar’s former students, said “I do not think this is going to do anything,” emphasizing that the community needs to do more for this cause. She suggested students should use social media and share photos to help spread awareness. “Sign the petition,” she said.

Former student of Hoodfar, Fay Devlin, stands in solidarity for her release. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“I think public demonstrations of this type are very necessary, but they’re not sufficient by any means,” said Peter Stoett, the director of Loyola Sustainability Research Centre and political science professor at Concordia University. He said Hoodfar’s release depends more on the negotiation between the governments involved—namely, the Canadian, Irish and Iranian governments.

Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“We can’t fool ourselves into thinking it’s going to change the government of Iran—their perspective is pretty hardened on this, and that’s going to take some serious diplomatic maneuvering,” said Stoett. Lewis, however, encourages people to get involved and write letters to the government.

“The final purpose of this [demonstration] is just to celebrate Homa’s work, and remember what an outstanding woman she is and the brutality of the situation she’s in right now,” Lewis said.  She said that the more people who are informed the better. “There are a lot of political prisoners all over the world—we want to stand in solidarity with them, as well.”

With files from Cristina Sanza

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