Student files human rights complaint against Concordia

Claims she was fired after seeking help for workplace harassment

Felicia* loves talking to people. Her ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, is immediately noticeable — and it’s one of the reasons she loved working at Concordia’s Campus Corner on the downtown campus. For two-and-a-half years, Felicia worked part-time at the university while studying in the classics, modern languages, and linguistics department.

However, when she began working with a new employee in September 2015, she no longer felt safe in a place she had considered a second home—so much so that even she found it hard to talk to anyone about it, she said.

“As an individual, he made me feel really uncomfortable—and I couldn’t talk to the other employee [during my shift] about it because I didn’t want to ruin the [atmosphere],” she said.“I felt like if I was really, really nice, he’d be nicer.”

Felicia said that after more than a month of both sexual and gender-based harassment, she was no longer able to internalize the problem. “The more I was exposed to this, the more I was keeping it in,” she said. “It was building and building and, in November, I just crashed.”

She started having panic attacks and, after an encounter late in November, she experienced a panic attack that required her to seek medical help and miss a week of class and work.

Convinced she no other options, Felicia arranged a meeting with her manager to seek help for the harassment she had been facing.

“I told her what happened—I thought there would be a solution,” Felicia said. “Then she asked me, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I’m not going to tell my boss what to do. I’m the employee, I listen to you.”

Felicia asked her manager if they could be assigned different shifts but was told that wasn’t possible. Instead, her manager’s solution was to cut Felicia’s hours—but she was still scheduled to work with her harasser. Felicia went back to her manager to ask for a different solution, and that’s when she said her manager decided to let her go.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR)— which is now representing Felicia and assisted Mei Ling in her complaint against the Arts and Science Federation of Associations last year—said this raises questions as to how management is trained to deal with harassment in the workplace.

“Managers or supervisors are supposed to be trained with how to deal with the situation very effectively,” he said. “We don’t know whether there’s any training. [Felicia] went to the manager for help, and she didn’t get the proper resolution— and she got terminated.”

While the university doesn’t comment on ongoing cases against them, they responded to questions pertaining to how managers at Concordia are trained to deal with workplace harassment.

“Concordia offers professional development training to its managers on a variety of issues, including workplace harassment,” said university spokesperson Chris Mota. Training on harassment in the workplace for managers, facilitated by the Department of Human Resources and the Office of Rights and Responsibilities, has been offered since 2011, she added. However, Mota said that employees are not trained to deal with harassment—rather, it is the manager’s responsibility to address such issues.

“When I lost my job, my heart kind of broke,” Felicia said. “I felt lost.” The stress and anxiety became so difficult for her to deal with that her academic performance also suffered. Felicia, who had a 3.47 GPA before September 2015, finished the 2015-2016 academic year with a 0.7 GPA.

In February 2016, Felicia filed a complaint to Concordia’s Office of Rights and Responsibilities (ORR) against the employee. She also filed a complaint with the Commission des normes du travail against the university for having been dismissed without good and sufficient cause, insufficient indemnity pay and for being dismissed for exercising her right to a workplace free of harassment.

When Felicia met with the ORR, she was told everything at the meeting would remain confidential.

“I was told everything would be confidential and that they would have to do an investigation and that they’d contact my boss’ boss,” said Felicia. “The thing is, if my complaint with normes du travail correlated with the complaint with the university internally, they would stop the investigation and they would stop everything.”

Despite the fact that Felicia said the complaints to the ORR and the commission were different—the first complaint focused on the employee and the second on the university itself—the ORR ended its investigation. They also transferred the case files to Concordia’s Human Resources. “Everything I said in confidence was actually transferred to the administration,” said Felicia, adding that they never asked for her permission to do so beforehand.

Felicia said she was then contacted by HR, who requested she attend a meeting with her former manager. However, recalling former Le Gym employee Rose Tandel’s problems with Concordia’s HR department in 2013, Felicia decided against attending the meeting.

Meanwhile, the complaint filed with the Commission des normes du travail hit two major roadblocks. First, Niemi said they were told that, because Felicia didn’t have a contract as a part-time employee, there wasn’t enough evidence that she worked at Concordia long enough to file for wrongful dismissal. Additionally, in order to pursue the psychological harassment complaint, Felicia would have to present the case in front of the labour board, a process which is time-consuming and would require Felicia to pay additional costs.

Now CRARR is helping Felicia take her complaint to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. There, Niemi said they’ll look for a “systemic remedy.”

“We’re asking for mandatory training for managers and supervisors on harassment— how to resolve it, how to identify it, how to correct it and how to prevent it,” he said.

He also noted that this isn’t the first time complaints have been filed against Concordia. “We see a pattern that somehow internally the mechanisms don’t work as much as they should,” said Niemi. “There’s not enough of a speedy resolution or an effective system provided to a student or employee feels discriminated or harassed.”

Felicia is also seeking $45,000 in damages.

*Name has been changed to ensure the individual’s privacy and protection.


Concordia pleads for the safe return of Professor Homa Hoodfar

Former Professor Hoodfar remains detained in Iranian prison

Concordia Academics held a press conference on Sept. 7 in the EV building on the Sir George Williams campus, Concordia calling for the immediate release of Dr. Homa Hoodfar, a retired Concordia anthropology and sociology professor emerita.

“On June 6, our department changed forever,” said Marc Lafrance, a sociology and anthropology professor. “On this day, one of our most admired and beloved professors was arrested and held in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison in Tehran.”

Hoodfar, 65, was arrested three months ago and charged with collaborating with a hostile government against national security—charges her family denies.

Recent news of Hoodfar’s deteriorating health pushed the Concordia community to issue an official press release asking for help from the Irish and Iranian governments for her safe return.

“A week ago, Homa Hoodfar fell gravely ill and was hospitalized,” said Kimberly Manning, principal of Concordia’s Simone De Beauvoir Institute . She said Hoodfar suffers from a rare neurological disease that requires medical attention.

Manning pleaded that Hoodfar’s case is an emergency and that at the moment, “we don’t know if she is alive.” Lafrance raised the question about whether or not she is receiving her medication or basic needs, such as food and water.

Hoodfar, who holds Irish as well as Canadian and Iranian citizenship, has received a great deal of support from Irish scholars since her arrest, said Emer O’Toole, a Canadian Irish studies professor, at the press release.

Photo by Chloe Ranaldi.

“Over the course of the summer [more than] 5000 academics signed a petition which called for Hoodfar’s immediate release, including notable public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Orhan Pamuk,” said Manning.

On Wednesday morning, Irish academics gathered outside of the Iranian Embassy in Dublin to show their support for Hoodfar.

 Hoodfar is recognized for her studies on development, culture and gender in the Middle East.

“We encourage all Concordia students to sign the petition that calls for Homa’s safe return home,” Lafrance told The Concordian. “Students are invited to share her message on social media.”

To sign the petition or to learn more about Professor Homa Hoodfar, visit:


Burkini backlash

This past week, images surfaced from Cannes, France where four armed police officers surrounded an innocent woman on the beach. They forced her to remove her garments amongst a bevy of bystanders and issued her a hefty fine for defying a new ban that prohibits her apparel.

The burkini is a swimsuit that essentially covers the entire body and is worn by Islamic women around the world when swimming or sunbathing. It adheres to their religious beliefs regarding veiling, while also allowing them to enjoy typical aquatic activities, such as going to the beach on a sweltering summer day.

Several French municipalities banned the religious swimwear, with the French Prime Minister saying that the swimsuit symbolizes “the enslavement of women,” according to the CBC. However, this past Friday the ban was overturned by a French high court, ruling that municipalities cannot issue fines, according to another report by the CBC.

Nevertheless, the debate has even spread overseas to Quebec. CAQ MNA Nathalie Roy recently advocated for a province-wide ban of the burkini, and linked the religious garment to radical Islam, according to the CBC. Meanwhile, Parti Quebecois leadership candidate Jean-Francois Lisée said to CTV that the hijab and burkini represent “the ultimate symbol of oppression of women.”

These remarks are reminiscent of Pauline Marois’ mandate back in 2012, when her government tried to introduce the draconian Charter of Quebec Values, which drew upon the dark underbelly of Quebec’s xenophobia. Although the charter was never passed, it stirred up quite the controversy and casted many religious minorities—including Muslim women—to the peripheries of society.

Here at The Concordian, we are absolutely mortified by the conversation amongst Quebec’s political elites, and we fully oppose any ban on religious garments. Since when is it appropriate for the government to tell its citizens how to dress?

It was nearly a century ago that women were subjected to similar harassment from the police in North America, but it was because their swimsuits were too short and revealed too much skin, according to an article published in The Huffington Post. An accompanying photo featured in the article reveals a policeman using measuring tape to see if the length of a woman’s bathing suit is preserving her modesty.

It is preposterous and paradoxical to create a policy that would aim to impose that same kind of control. Furthermore, it is blatantly oppressive and misogynistic to tell women how to dress, in order to meet certain standards, or to better blend into society.

We should all have the right to wear whatever we want, whenever we want—even if it signifies our religious beliefs. The beauty of living in a secular and pluralistic society is that people have the power to determine their own destiny, and we think that wearing the burkini or practicing Islam is a part of that. We should be advocating for tolerance and acceptance, rather than resorting to divisive tactics that drive minority groups further towards the fringes of society.  


Finkelstein speaks out for Egypt and Gaza

The media and America blamed for a lack of transparency and democracy

Controversial scholar Norman Finkelstein spoke as part of the Human Rights Conference at Concordia University on Wed. Nov. 5 concerning the human rights crisis in Egypt and Gaza and the link between both countries.

The talk, entitled Egypt and Gaza Intertwined: Human Rights Conference, was based around three main topics: understanding what Finkelstein calls the Gaza massacre of 2014; media misinformation and Israel’s ability to take advantage of it; and the role of the United Nations (U.N.) and primarily the United States with regard to both Gaza and Egypt. The event was sponsored by the Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy, the Egyptian Canadian Home Organization, and the Concordia Egyptian Student Association (CESA).

Photo by Keith Race.

Finkelstein, a political activist who has done extensive research on both conflicts, has seen his fair share of criticism over his opinion on what he sees as flagrant human rights abuses in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  That night, he focused most of his speech on creating a timeline of the major events that took place during Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli name for this summer’s seven-week assault on Gaza, which was spurred on by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas operatives.

“[The event] was not unlike the previous massacres, though on, clearly, a larger scale,” explained Finkelstein on the thousands of overwhelmingly civilian casualties in Gaza, which he said the European Union and United States turned a blind eye on. “Surprisingly, the United States and the European Union did not break off relations with the new [Israeli] government, but basically took an approach of ‘let’s just see what’s going to happen’,” Finkelstein said.

While the world sat by their T.V.s, computers and/or smartphones, there was little to no reference to the conflict as a major issue. According to Finkelstein, Hamas were not behaving like terrorists, a necessary premise for Israel, whose actions would otherwise be considered war crimes, as stated explicitly by Amnesty International.

Finkelstein argued that one of the main reasons Israel was able to continue attacks in Gaza for nearly two months was because of the media. He cited the fluidity and ever-changing focus of the news as something that allowed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue the “massacre” relatively unnoticed. His two primary examples of this shift were the bizarre and tragic Malaysian airplane crash over Ukraine and the first ISIS beheading of an American.

The other side of the media coin was the lack of research of Israel’s claim of terror rockets sent by Hamas. Finkelstein called this claim a piece of “science fiction,” explaining that it is highly implausible that 4,000 rockets would kill a mere seven civilians and cause only $15 million in property damage. He also denied Israel’s claim that its Iron Dome (a system that Israel claims intercepts and destroys short-range rockets) saved countless lives.

The latter half of the conference focused on the U.N. and U.S.A.’s role in both Egypt and Gaza. With regard to Gaza, Finkelstein condemned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for his laissez-faire attitude toward Israel. Particularly, Finkelstein said Ban Ki-Moon only released a statement calling the Israel-Gaza conflict a “moral outrage and criminal act” after Israel attacked a seventh UN shelter. “Ban Ki-Moon, [the] comatose puppet of the United States, wasn’t doing anything,” Finkelstein said. It was the later that day that President Obama spoke out. Having Ban Ki-Moon speak out was very embarrassing for Obama, he added.

Finkelstein argued that the events that took place in Egypt, the overthrowing and jailing of the elected president in the name of democracy by the United States, were and continue to be unfounded. Finkelstein refused to call the current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a president.

It took about 40 minutes, but Finkelstein managed to find the place to compare the two situations, making the title of the conference relevant. Finkelstein argued that the common denominator between the atrocities in both Gaza and Egypt is America. The U.S.A. is a country in which the last two presidents have defended and illegally armed those who were vested interests to them, according to Finkelstein. “Egypt is not on a democratic transition, Israel is on a dictatorial transition,” he explained. This is because the United States have allowed it to be so by expressing how both Israel and President Sisi have the right to defend themselves, despite the lack of evidence that they are being attacked.

“Israel has the right to defend itself, Sisi has the right to defend himself, the only ones who don’t have the right to defend themselves are the people living under brutal and illegal siege,” said Finkelstein. “And the people of Egypt who are now living under a brutal dictatorship, they don’t have the right to defend themselves. Only important people have the right to defend themselves and the rest of us just have to live with it.”


Remembering one Raoul Wallenberg

Project aims to teach humanity rather than passivity in the face of atrocity

Concordia will co-host a special panel discussion on Wednesday, Oct. 29 in memory of a Swedish diplomat whose intercession, at personal risk, saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi extermination. His willingness to remain in danger for the sake of others ultimately led to his disappearance after arrest by Soviet authorities sure of his complicity as a spy. For this he was eventually made Canada’s first honorary citizen in 1985.

The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) is organizing the event.

“I was impressed by MIGS’ hands-on approach consisting of advocacy, organizing conferences, and professional training,” said Daniel Haboucha, a research associate for the organization who has been involved with the initiative for quite some time. With a background on international humanitarian and human rights law, he was interested in using Wallenberg as a tool for public awareness in the light of genocide prevention.

“I was very enthusiastic about the opportunity to work on the Raoul Wallenberg project and contribute to public education and awareness around this important historical figure, making his legacy relevant to a contemporary audience,” he said, adding the project was started by former MIGS intern Isadora Hellegren through the Swedish Institute, the organization highlighting Swedish contributions abroad.

Haboucha calls MIGS a ‘hub for policy discussion about mass atrocity prevention’ and an emergent type of law, called the Responsibility to Protect, which twins the concepts of state sovereignty with the responsibility of protection against atrocities.

“Being based at Concordia’s History Department and operating out of Concordia for the past 28 years, we naturally appreciate the university’s support for our work, which comes across in a variety of ways, from assisting with space and publicity to providing logistical and administrative support,” wrote Haboucha by email.

In its nearly three decades of existence, MIGS has grown into a regular partner with the United Nations, save when it works independently, in monitoring conflict zones around the world, particularly in monitoring domestic media in at-risk countries as an early warning bell against atrocities, serious human rights abuses, and genocide.

“With the number of living Holocaust survivors rapidly diminishing, it is important to keep alive the memory of what they experienced—both as a cautionary tale for humanity and, in the case of Raoul Wallenberg, an inspiring one as well—for future generations,” continued Haboucha.

The Raoul Wallenberg Legacy of Leadership Project will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 29, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. It will be held at Centre Mont-Royal,2200 Rue Mansfield, Montréal. In attendance will be Sweden’s ambassador to Canada, Per Sjögren, Cameron Hudson, Director of The Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Irwin Cotler, Canadian Member of Parliament for Mont Royal, and Adama Dieng, UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.


JHR Concordia hosts Speak4Rights

Professor Emeritus talks about his desire for Hungarian democracy

Concordia’s Journalists for Human rights group will be hosting their first speaker series of the year on Thursday, Oct. 23 by Concordia Political Science Professor Emeritus András B. Göllner.

Entitled “Rules for Civil Rights Activism”, the talk will look at what it takes to be a human rights activist and the dangers of the role by drawing largely from Göllner’s experiences as a campaigner for Hungarian democracy.

A Hungarian by birth, he briefly returned to the small landlocked country of 10 million people in the ‘90s after the Soviet collapse allowed him to participate in its nascent democratic institutions. Instead, what he saw was a steady drift towards political cronyism and authoritarianism by a government cleverly renewing the traditional pillars of Hungarian nationalism—anti-communism, Catholicism, social and political conservatism—for its own cynical uses.

“Hungary never had a democratic tradition, and as soon as the communist system collapsed people came into power without any democratic experience,” he said.

Finding himself increasingly unwanted by the authorities due to his outspoken views, he returned to Canada and formed the Canadian-Hungarian Democratic Charter, a civil rights activist group campaigning for democracy in the country. Göllner says the current regime under Prime Minister Viktor Orban has reached new heights of corruption and rights violations.

Because emigration remains easy in Hungary, those who do not agree with the situation and want to leave can and often do, but this makes it difficult for them to participate in matters back home.

“You must understand that of the 300,000 [Canadian] Hungarians, a very small percentage are organized on a community level,” he said on the importance organizations such as his give to dissidents.

“We are basically a civil rights group trying to limit the expansion to [the Canadian Hungarian community] by this anti-democratic revolution happening in Hungary,” said Göllner on the rise of the neo-fascist, anti-semitic radical right who’ve sent him death threats, harassment, and political obstruction.

Like most European countries suffering economically during the past few years, Hungary has had a tough time recovering. According to the Budapest Business Journal Hungary has a poverty rate of over 45 per cent of the population, and this has made the political fringe attractive. The neo-Nazi Jobbik political party won 20 per cent of the vote in the 2014 elections; meanwhile, ruling party officials have openly referred to Roma as animals fit to be stamped out, and Orban has been quoted by the Independent as determined to adopt a system of ‘illiberal democracy’ modeled on Russia and China.

He attributed the smallness of the country, relative obscurity in the minds of the international community, and the limited reach of its language—Hungarian is highly localized and completely unintelligible to other European languages—with limiting international coverage of the bizarre politics that would make for instant international news elsewhere.

By speaking about his work, Göllner hopes to get across the idea of the difficulties involved as much as the strategies one can use to fight for improvement, and the role Canada and the larger international democratic community has to play in fostering this change.

“We are planning a major action … for John Baird and the PM for the conjunction of the visit of Hungary’s foreign visitor [on Thursday]. We hope Canada becomes more vigorous in its protestations,” said Göllner.

“Rules of Civil Activism” takes place on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 at 5 p.m. at N sur Mackay, 1244 Mackay St.


A culture of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and misogyny

“Theft isn’t black, bank fraud isn’t Jewish, and rape isn’t male. Just because you’re paid to demonize men doesn’t mean rape is gendered.” These words accompanied posters put up by the newest chapter of a Men’s Rights Group in Calgary.

The posters were reported by members of the University of Alberta’s student union, and began to appear on social media on Sept. 16.  They also featured a portrait of Lisa Gotell, chair of the Women’s Studies department at UofA, labeled as a ‘bigot.’

Though this happened at a university, it would be naïve to dismiss the issue as something that is only happening on campuses.

According to Julie Michaud, the Administrative Coordinator at Concordia’s Centre For Gender Advocacy, the fact remains that rape culture is deeply ingrained in our society. “Rape culture is a term that sounds quite inflammatory. When we hear it we may feel like it’s an exaggeration,” she said.“We realize there are a lot of attitudes and explicit messages that tell us that rape is normal, and not that big of a deal. We’re told people who are making a big deal out of it are just being over sensitive.”

The problem with men’s rights advocates is not that they wish to talk about issues such as men’s access to rape and sexual assault counselling, it’s that they do so in a way that disparages feminism and anti-sexual violence work. Their words are less rooted in justice, and more in blaming the victim.

They ignore the fact that feminist discourse shows an understanding that these issues do not only affect women. This comes from a profound and intentional lack of understanding of feminism, which according to Michaud, is in part gained from media and popular culture, which paints women as “almost cartoonish, man hating feminists.”

For groups like Men’s Rights Calgary to insinuate that droves of women are lying about being sexually assaulted or raped is not only ignorant, it’s downright false. There are no statistics to support any assertion that women are lying about rape. In fact, the most popular study often cited by men’s rights advocates, which claimed that a staggering 41 per cent of rape claims made to the United States police over almost a decade were false, has since been completely debunked, according to The Huffington Post.

The rhetoric being thrown around by these groups is also dangerous; it normalizes the idea of rape and sexual assault. This victim blaming is part of the problem. We need to teach men not to rape, not teach women how to avoid being raped.

According to Michaud, it can start with more education. “I think we need consent workshops with as many students as we can. I think campaigns like the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign are very effective because they show in a really clear way, that having sex with somebody who’s too drunk, or passed out, or who changes their mind once some kind of sexual activity has started… that those things are all sexual assault.”

Despite the good intentions of campaigns like ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ Michaud believes they are not enough. She believes open discussions and workshops on the issue are important.

There remains plenty of evidence that rape culture is silencing women about their experiences with sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, out of every 100 rapes that occur in the United States, only 46 are reported to police. Only three out of those 100 cases end in conviction. Those numbers point to a serious problem.

This is why it’s so important to have places like the Centre for Gender Advocacy, and the Sexual Assault Centre, which has long been fought for and is finally going to open this year.

At a time when a culture of rape runs rampant, and men’s rights groups look to undermine the work to end sexual violence and violence against women in general, it is our job to be vocal about these issues and to get involved as much as we can.


Opinions: Don’t call “her” a “he”

When the show Fox and Friends ran a segment on Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning of the leaked U.S. intelligence reports fame) two weeks ago, producers chose to introduce the story with Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks like a Lady).” This move sparked widespread criticism and anger at the insensitivity of the news station towards Manning’s announcement that she wished to be identified by her preferred gender.

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

CNN, which is considered more liberal than its Fox counterpart, has also misgendered Manning (and continues to do so) in their coverage of the release of the largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public.

The actions of both American media giants go against guidelines set forth by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which state that the media should refer to people by their preferred name and gender. Other media outlets have already switched to correctly identify Manning, but Fox and CNN are among those who continue to disrespect her wishes to be identified as a female.

This is an example of the unique challenges faced by the transgender community. While LGBTQ individuals all face challenges across the globe, the transgender community, in particular, has some of the most violent and deadly treatment directed towards them. This blatant show of inconsideration from a large number of media outlets demonstrates how the rights and treatment of the transgender community are not making the same strides towards equality as the rest of the LGBTQ community.

This is not to say that there have been no moves toward better rights for the transgender community. Just this year, the House of Commons passed a transgender rights bill. The Canadian Press also brought to light the story of 11-year-old Wren Kauffman’s transition from female to male, and how he has helped other students come to terms with their gender dysphoria. In Colorado, 6-year-old Coy Mathis won a civil rights case allowing her to use the girls restroom at school. However, it is a mistake to let these cases of triumph mask how much work is still left to be done.

The working rights and conditions for the transgender community are still an issue despite anti-discrimination laws. According to a report from Vancouver Coastal Health, 49 per cent of transgender people responding to a British Columbia survey reported needing employment services, and evidence indicated that transgender people who are “visibly gender-variant or ‘out’ as transgender” habitually experience discrimination in the workplace.

The Human Rights Campaign — the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the United States — claims that 44 per cent of transgender adults are underemployed and are nearly four times more likely to have an income under $10,000. The Center for American Progress reports that 90 per cent of transgender workers have experienced, “some form of harassment or mistreatment,” on the job.

Violence against transgender people is also incredibly disproportionate when compared to the rest of the population. An American study revealed that about 50 per cent of transgender adults are survivors of violence or abuse, and 25 per cent have experienced physical, sexual or attempted assault.

These issues all stem from the fact that despite the laws, speeches, and support that people claim to offer the transgender community, the social behavior surrounding them has not yet caught up. Transgender people are facing discrimination across the globe for their decision to acknowledge their gender dysphoria, and the fact that a media organization won’t change that “he” to a “she” in their coverage shows how far they really are from them getting the rights they deserve.

The media has the power to push for positive change in the world, and when they make these careless, shameful errors it not only degrades the individual, but also acts as a dismissal of all the work that’s been put in to make the transgender community an equal part of society.



There’s plenty of barbershops in the sea

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan.

Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism, opening its doors wide to immigrants from countries all over the globe. With them, they bring their suitcases filled with culture, beliefs, values and religion. As Canada becomes more and more diverse, its multiculturalism has proven to be both a blessing and, for some people, a burden.

Terminal Barber Shop in Toronto recently found itself in the middle of a human rights dispute after the barbers refused to cut Faith McGregor’s hair back in June. The shop is run by Muslims, whose religion prohibits them from cutting a woman’s hair, unless they are a family member.

McGregor filed a human rights complaint and told the CBC that she wants “the shop to be cited and forced to give haircuts in the fashion they provide [barbershop style] to any woman, or man that asks for one.” She also wants the shop to set up a sign stating that they will serve both men and women.

Now, here is where our problem lies. We have two sets of rights butting heads with each other; the right to religious freedom and McGregor’s right as a woman to not be denied service based on her gender. This cannot be solved with a ‘my rights are more important than yours’ attitude. Barbara Hall, the Head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, told the CBC that “no right is absolute.”

There is something about McGregor’s story that irks me. In August, the men of the barbershop came forward and offered McGregor a haircut from a willing professional. McGregor refused and according to the National Post, she said that, “now it’s bigger than what occurred with me that one day, in one afternoon.”

Bigger? Frankly, it wasn’t a big issue in the first place. There is also the argument circulating that McGregor was refused because she wanted a “men’s haircut.” That has nothing to do with it. The barbers did not refuse to cut her hair because of the length she desired. Their refusal was based on their values and that alone.

A part of me is actually bothered that this so-called violation of human rights is gaining so much attention. There are much bigger fish to fry, especially when religion is involved. It is not as if McGregor could not walk down the street and find another barbershop or salon that would be more than willing to cut her precious locks.

It is not uncommon to find salons and estheticians that advertise themselves as “women only.” If a man walked in looking to get his eyebrows groomed and was refused, would he file a complaint? Probably not, because the man can more-than-likely find another esthetician to tame his brows.

Ultimately, the men were not discriminating because they “disrespect” women, a stereotype that a lot of Muslim men have to live with. People seem to forget that many religions preach male dominance, but not everyone that follows that religion abides by this. The men simply refused out of modesty and they have the right to do so.

McGregor is, in my opinion, overreacting. If we are going to learn to live together in Canada, we need to be a little more open-minded. I do agree that for the most part, people need to integrate into Canadian society. However, with the influx of different cultures and religions, these cases will be more common and they aren’t as black and white as they used to be.


Malala Yousafzai: an unsung hero

“In the world, girls are going to school freely. And there is no fear. But in Swat, when we go to our school, we are very afraid of Taliban. He will kill us. He will throw acid on our face. He can do anything.”

Malala Yousafzai pronounced these words when she was only 11 years old, when she was still able to attend her private school in Swat Valley, Pakistan. Now, at 15, Malala is an icon and encourages people to fight for girl’s education all around the world.

Last Tuesday, Malala was attacked on her way back from school. Why? Because she showed up for class. Because the Taliban wants girls in schools to wear the burka, a veil that covers the whole body and only leaves a grating for eyesight. Because she defied the Taliban by saying things like: “they cannot stop me,” and “I will get my education if it’s at home, school or anywhere else.”

People in Pakistan need to be inspired by this young girl. In a country where women are seriously oppressed, she stepped up and defied the Taliban. This 15-year-old girl has brought a country to its knees.

“This is a turning point. In Pakistan, for the first time, all political parties, Urdus, Christians, Sikhs, all religions prayed for my daughter,” said Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father.

“She is not just my daughter, she is everybody’s daughter.”

Countries like Pakistan, that are terrorized day after day by groups such as the Taliban, need to find their voice, just like Malala did. More importantly, it is imperative that the rest of the world take action as well.

I am deeply moved by this young girl, and feel ashamed for sometimes taking my education for granted. As educated and free university students, it is our duty to take a stand against this injustice.

“Why should we let a bunch of uneducated cowards and thugs be the press secretaries of Islam when the faith, much like Western secular values, is an illustrious enabler of women education? Please. Understand that we have a shared enemy here,” said Dr. Faheem Younus, clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland and the founder of the website He said he was shocked by the Taliban’s actions and argued that Islamic belief and values have nothing to do with these fearful men.

Fortunately, Yousafzai did not die, she is still being treated in the UK.

The state of things in Pakistan are seriously deteriorating. Children are woken up by the sound of gunfire at night. People receive daily Taliban threats via FM radio and the list of refugees in camps is growing. Worst of all, teachers and children (especially girls) don’t go to school because they are afraid of being beheaded, whipped, or publicly humiliated.

Populations living in fear is what drives organizations like the Taliban. People need to start defying fear mongerers; Yousafzai has done it, and despite threats from the Taliban that she will be killed if she returns, she’s insisting they return home and she’s already started preparing for her exams. Talk about inspiring.

I can only hope that Malala’s shooting will wake people up and expose the horror of what is happening, not only in Pakistan, but in other countries experiencing violent unrest as well.


Fighting for the right to learn

Tuition might be rising, but Quebec university students should count themselves lucky.

At this moment in Iran, hundreds of young adults are meeting in secret, travelling long distances and crowding in living rooms or kitchens—all for the chance to get a university degree.

These are the students of the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education, a volunteer-based underground university running out of private residences and the subject of the documentary Education on Fire that had its first Canadian screening at Concordia last Friday evening.

The screening took place in the Hall building as part of a free two-day event organized by Concordia and McGill’s Associations of Bahá’í Students.

“One of the main principles of the Bahá’í  faith is the unification of mankind and the equality of all its peoples,” said Nasim Sharafi, one of Concordia’s Association of Bahá’í Students (CABS) executives. “When we see human rights abuse we really want to take action.”

Co-sponsored by Amnesty International and directed by Jeff Kaufman, the film addresses the persecution Bahá’ís face in Iran as a religious minority, including the denial of access to higher education. The Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education was created as a response to this in 1987.

In May 2011, the homes and facilities that housed the university were raided by Iranian police, destroying photocopiers and equipment and arresting its members. The violence spawned awareness campaigns around the world, including Education Under Fire.

“Even though I was part of the organizing team, I hadn’t seen [the film] myself. It was very powerful, very moving,” said Greg Newing of Concordia’s Association of Bahá’í Students. The documentary has already been screened in schools across the U.S., including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where many administrations have responded to the film by accrediting BIHE degrees at their universities. Newing hopes for the same to happen at Concordia.

“It’s really good when universities accept these degrees,” he said, explaining that it makes it easier for Bahá’ís to find work in other countries. Concordia’s Association of Bahá’í Students, representing Concordia’s small but active Bahá’í community, plans to start a petition asking the university to accept BIHE degrees here as well.

In addition to the documentary screening, a panel on the current human rights situation in Iran was held last Thursday. An audience of just over one hundred people gathered to hear lectures from three speakers: McGill professor and president of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre Payam Akhavan; Concordia history professor and director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies Frank Chalk and Nika Khanjani, a former languages teacher at BIHE.

“Imagine you finish high school and you want to go to university,” Khanjani told the audience, explaining the reality of what attending BIHE is like for Iranian Bahá’ís. “You go to university but there is no name for it, no one has heard of it. You have to keep it a secret from all of your friends.”

A letter from Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta and a petition asking Iranian officials to end discrimination in Iran were available for people to sign in support at the doors. Both the letter and the petition can be found online at


Gatineau immigrant handbooks subject of human rights complaints

The first in a series of complaints has been filed at the Quebec Human Rights Commission over
the City of Gatineau’s controversial guidelines for new immigrants.

Four people, all of them immigrants, have reached out to an anti-discrimination organization for help.

“The first complaint has been filed this morning, and there are more to come,” said Fo Niemi on Monday.

Niemi, director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, a Montreal-based advocacy group, said it could take two years to come to a decision through the Human Rights Commission.

He declined to name the four people involved, but said that three of them are from the Maghreb area of Africa, while another is a black francophone from Africa. All have been in Canada for up to 10 years, having lived for the last two to six years in Gatineau.

“They felt singled out,” said Niemi. “When they read the handbook, they felt like they were being […] ridiculed and infantalized. And also, they feel like they are subject to all kinds of stereotypes. Not for what it says, but what it insinuates.”

New immigrants are counselled to avoid bribing officials, and not to commit honour killings. Children are not to be punished excessively, nor be physically or sexually abused. Some of the tips in the 16-point guide are found in the federal government’s guide for new immigrants, but others raised eyebrows. The guide warned against cooking food with pungent flavours and avoiding smells like cigarette smoke, and stressed the importance of punctuality and good hygiene.

“The fact that the book is targeted specifically towards immigrants – the assumption is that immigrants don’t share or don’t have these values,” said Niemi. “So that’s why these values are considered important to immigrants’ successful integration in society.”

Another issue Niemi took issue with was the line that “religion is a private matter.”

“This is contrary to the constitution and to laws, since there’s no laws that says that religion is a private matter,” said Niemi, unlike in countries like France, where religious symbols are banned from public space.

The guidebook also paints an unrealistic vision of the makeup of Gatineau, said Niemi.

“The code of values in the handbook presents Quebec society in Gatineau as if there are no anglophones, no First Nations people, and other groups that are equally important to what we call diversity. There’s not even mention of people with disabilities.”

In response, four different groups that help 2,000 immigrants a year in the city have boycotted the guidebook, including Accueil Parrainage Outaouais.

Gatineau is the fourth-largest city in the province, with over 240,000 residents. According to Statistics Canada, it saw an influx of over 5,000 immigrants from 2001 to 2005.

Comparisons have been drawn between Gatineau’s guidebook and the statement of values issued by the town of Herouxville, Que. in 2007. The controversial statement of conduct reminded newcomers that stoning was not permitted in the town, making Gatineau the second Quebec town to issue a statement of values targeted to immigrant newcomers, noted Niemi.

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