Seeking news in times of crisis: People in Canada can’t see this content

As an earthquake shook Morocco, Moroccan students were faced by the difficulty of finding news and support.

Yasmina May Hafiz, a Concordia third-year international student from Morocco, vividly recalls the moment she received the delayed news from her home country nearly four hours after the earthquake hit on the night of Sept. 8.

“I received a call, so I’m thinking my friend just wants to chat, and they immediately say: ‘Hey, have you called your family? Have you contacted anyone that’s in Morocco right now? There was just an earthquake,’” Hafiz said.

Taken aback, she quickly hung up the phone, entering an immediate state of panic. “I didn’t know the magnitude. I didn’t know what city it hit. I didn’t know any details,” she said.

On Sept. 8, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Morocco’s Atlas Mountains before midnight, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring thousands more. 

Canada’s recent implementation of Bill C-18, which has resulted in news content being blocked on social media, has made times of crisis even harder after Morocco’s earthquake. 

It took almost 40 minutes for Hafiz to reach her family in Casablanca, as her mother’s phone died and local cell towers were down. Her father happened to pick up while out of town in Algeria, reassuring her that her family was safe.

“I just had to calm myself down and be like, ‘Okay, I’ve talked to everyone. They’re okay. Like repeating to myself I’ve heard their voices,’” Hafiz said.

Hafiz spent the majority of her life in Casablanca, alongside her parents and younger brother. 

In 2021, at 18 years old, she moved to Montreal to study communications and cultural studies at Concordia. While this opened a new chapter in her life, it took her some time to navigate her lifestyle in the city. Part of this change required her to find a way to stay up to date with local news from her hometown.

She found herself relying on local Moroccan news outlets’ social media pages. To her, this was a perfect way to passively consume information with limited effort.

This routine didn’t last too long.

In June, Canada introduced Bill C-18, which requires big tech companies, such as Google and Meta, to compensate Canadian media organizations for using their social platforms. On Aug. 1, Meta responded to the bill by blocking most news content on Facebook and Instagram across Canada. 

For those like Hafiz, who depended on social media as her primary source of local news outside of the country, Bill C-18 created barriers that became most noticeable in times of crisis.  

Matthew Johnson is the Director of Education at MediaSmarts, a digital media literacy non-profit organization based in Ottawa. MediaSmarts defines digital media literacy as “the ability to critically, effectively and responsibly access, use, understand and engage with media of all kinds.” 

He referred to the obstacles faced by wildfire evacuees in Yellowknife this summer, who had limited access to emergency news updates on Meta’s platforms.

“That made it very difficult for many people to share what was happening to them. And in parts of Canada, where there’s limited access, in some cases to TV or radio news, it does seem as though it did have a significant impact,” Johnson said. 

These limitations may also impact those who rely on news from outside of Canada, with limited access to broadcast or print from other countries. “The real question is, what’s going to happen when and if Google starts doing the same thing?” Johnson asked. 

Johnson emphasized the importance of not putting all of one’s informational eggs in the same basket. He advised readers to curate their news sources from outside of social media platforms, ensuring to list those that they can rely on, especially in times of crisis. 

Despite Concordia students facing limited access to news on social media, they still found ways to spread information on Instagram. 

Selma Idrissi Kaitouni was raised in Casablanca and moved to Montreal last year to pursue her studies at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business. The student was in Montreal with her mother when the earthquake hit, but her father was in Marrakesh. Her family hasn’t been affected.

A few days after the earthquake, Idrissi Kaitouni and her friends came together to form a social club called the Moroccan Student Union (MSU), to advocate for those affected by the crisis. 

The club aims to become an official student group by completing the university’s registration process. “We really want to start embracing Moroccan culture at Concordia, whether it’s during Ramadan or it’s just having a safe place to be when you’re very far from home,” Idrissi Kaitouni said. 

Idrissi Kaitouni also mentioned Bill C-18’s influence on spreading awareness. When attempting to post a Canadian news article covering resources available to help those affected by the earthquake, her post was blocked by Instagram. The MSU reverted to posting donation links instead, which has been successful.

Emphasizing the importance of donating to international initiatives such as Banque Alimentaire, Idrissi Kaitouni added their link to MSU’s Instagram bio.

“I know as time will pass, less people will be talking about [the earthquake]…But Morocco will need lots of time to heal from it,” she said. 

Hafiz searched for a Morocco student club prior to the earthquake. She is grateful to see the MSU forming in support of her community.

“It’s incredible because everybody is rallying behind [us]. We saw it with the World Cup and now we saw it when it really mattered, when people needed it. I feel very, very proud to be from a country that can do that any day,” said Hafiz.


H’RIRA addresses identity and challenges orientalist perceptions of Morocco

Artist Safae Mounsif’s work presents a polarity between authentic representations of Morocco and distorted perceptions of the country

Montreal artist Safae Mounsif’s work is inherently dualistic: the very name of her exhibition, H’RIRA, refers to both the hearty Moroccan soup consumed during the month of Ramadan, as well as a Moroccan expression describing a state of chaos and anarchy. From Oct. 21 to Oct. 28, visitors were invited to browse Mounsif’s collection of 12 paintings. The artist’s work seeks to reframe and challenge outdated Moroccan notions by presenting aspects of the country’s culture through a surrealistic, chaotic approach. Identity plays a crucial role in H’RIRA; Mounsif’s work encourages the Moroccan community to take control of their narrative and reappropriate aspects of their culture that they may be stifling.

Mounsif moved to Morocco shortly after being born in Montreal. Four years ago, she returned to Montreal, where she began working as an interior designer. In 2020, she took a leap of faith and decided to quit her job, realizing that it was time to focus on painting. “For me, it was just time to take the risk,” she said. “I gave myself a year to make something out of it, because […] it was very important that if I quit my job, I need to have an alternative.”

Through the duration of the lockdown, Mounsif put her artistic talents to use and devoted her time to this project, one that ultimately took a whole year. Three months were dedicated solely to preparing H’RIRA for display. “I wanted it to be successful, so I spent a lot of energy just trying to find the right place for it. For me, it was very symbolic to do it at the Moroccan Cultural Centre (MCC) because it’s my own representation of Morocco.”

Mounsif felt that by hosting her exhibition here, it would allow for the MCC to gain more visibility, while also affording her the chance to showcase her work for free. She explained that most galleries take 50 per cent of commissions, but by hosting her exhibition at the MCC, she was able to claim 100 per cent of all painting sales. On top of holding her exhibition in a free space, Mounsif also decided to offer all of her pieces in print form. Purchasing these prints allow for visitors to support the artist while also receiving a unique work of art at a much more affordable price.

When admiring Mounsif’s work, one can discern a clear juxtaposition between many of the paintings. Most works are grouped into pairs, which helps to accentuate the clear differences between one work and the other. Take for example her two paintings titled QROUDA and HABIBI. Both paintings are placed on the wall, side to side. In the first one, there is a man playing a flute who is surrounded by several children and two macaques. This painting is, as Mounsif explained it, a rather accurate representation of the country as she knows it, even though this surreal version is painted in bright pastels. She also noted that, contrary to popular belief, Morocco is a colourful country. Many buildings in the country are saturated in vivid pastels and feature vibrant tile patterns.

HABIBI, contrasted to QROUDA, appears to be much more grounded, especially with its earthy tones and fixed subject. A man, perhaps the same one featured in QROUDA, lounges on a chair as he plucks at an oud, a stringed instrument. In lieu of children and macaques, this man is surrounded by four cats. He’s wearing a red tarboosh, a hat sometimes worn by Muslim men, and there is a pot of tea resting by his feet. The background of this piece is composed of several patterns similar to those found on Moroccan tiles, though much less colourful than the ones in the previous painting.

Mounsif explained that when she asks viewers, who are either from Morocco or elsewhere, which painting best portrays the country, they tend to choose the image that presents an orientalist depiction of Morocco, such as HABIBI. For her, these pieces don’t paint an authentic picture of life in the country. Instead, they seek to expose outdated notions of the country and its inhabitants.

When asked what she hopes viewers will take away from her paintings, Mounsif replied, “I think it depends on the viewers. I think for the Moroccan community, I want them to have another representation of themselves, I want them to know that we need to tell our stories and we need to be active regarding these representations.” Mounsif also hopes that her paintings will offer individuals who are not a part of the Moroccan community access to more realistic representations of the country and the Muslim community.

It is evident that H’RIRA is a deeply personal expression of the artist’s own identity while also functioning as a commentary on the enduring orientalist portrayals of Morocco. Mounsif’s paintings encourage viewers, wherever they come from, to examine what aspects comprise their own identities. Hopefully, they can learn to appreciate these aspects and create their own narratives according to who they are.

“[Identity] is something that is very important to me and I don’t think that we can just be passive about it,” Mounsif said. “I think that we cannot just endure our identity but somehow embrace it by knowing what it is made of.”

Mounsif noted that from Dec. 10 to 12, H’RIRA will be moving to La P’tite Porte, located at 1122 De Maisonneuve Blvd. Visitors will have the chance to browse Mounsif’s collection of work, and her prints will be up for sale. For more information on the artist, please visit her website.


Photo courtesy of Catherine Reynolds


Questioning materiality and artistic significance

In a time of ecological and economic crises, what significance does material culture hold? Can art play a role beyond aestheticism?

Material culture - the study of objects and the physical space they occupy, including works of art as objects - raises many questions in the art world, including the place artworks hold in defining a cultural history and identity. These questions are a constant topic of conversation among artists, viewers, and curators alike.

Having visited numerous UNESCO sites, historic landmarks, and almost every major city on my solo trip to Morocco in May, I was eager to see what the contemporary art scene was like and how it would compare to that of Montreal.

I had not read anything about the space prior to my visit to the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), in Marrakech, Morocco. Nor had I done any research; I had no context as to what I would see or any expectations, for that matter.

The exhibition at the time of my visit, Material Insanity, featured the work of over 30 African artists, both from the continent and its diaspora, including Berlin-based conceptual artist Adrian Piper, and music collective KOKOKO!.

As the title suggests, Material Insanity explores the significance of material culture and commodification and creates a discourse surrounding collective cultural experiences revolving around materiality and visual imagery.

I’ve been thinking about this exhibition a lot since returning from my trip and as I visit many new art shows in and around Montreal. The exhibition and museum, as a whole, creates a space for engaging in a dialogue about the collective and individual experiences of artists throughout the continent, through references to culture, politics, and economics.

The MACAAL creates an environment where artists and viewers can converse about and reflect on issues that pertain to their cultural identity and experiences. I truly felt as though, for the first time, I was visiting a museum that held cultural significance and begged for answers to pertinent questions.

Takadiwa’s work, Washen Again, speaks to the importance of imagery and visual culture while simultaneously playing a pertinent role in an ongoing ecological crisis. Photo by Lorenza Mezzapelle.

Having previously read and written about Moffat Takadiwa, a multi-disciplinary Zimbabwean artist, I was overwhelmed, to say the least, when I saw one of his works featured in the museum.

Takadiwa’s work explores personal and collective histories through the use of recycled and found objects. His visual interpretation of current issues makes a commentary on material culture in conjunction with the economic crisis of his country and community.

Takadiwa’s piece, Washen Again, is composed of toothbrushes and dishwashing soap bottle tops. The large scale sculpture shares similar qualities to an intricate rug; the found objects placed methodically to give the appearance of woven details, alternating in tones of red, green, and beige.

The featured works’ significance speaks to the importance of imagery and visual culture, while simultaneously playing a pertinent role in an ongoing ecological crisis. The act of repurposing found objects that no longer serve a purpose, and breathing new life into them, demonstrates the artistic capabilities of the exhibited artists.

The MACAAL’s creation and development of a dialogue - which at once explores relevant cultural issues and contributes to a continent’s cultural history and international representation - is a component that lacks from most large art institutions.

I cannot think of anything else that fully encompasses being an artist or curator, other than creating artwork with all that one has instead of buying new.

Further information about the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden can be found at A 3D tour of Material Insanity can be found at


Photos by Lorenza Mezzapelle

Student Life

Slice of Life: Letter from Morocco

Keeping up with friends while abroad

Dear Katy,

There is so much I wish I could write to you—but where do I even start? I know it’s my fault for not taking the time to write to you more often. I’ve been busy trying to absorb all the tomorrows filled with even more stories than the yesterdays. But as I sit in a rattling bus taking me from Marrakesh deep into the Atlas Mountains—where I plan to wander in Amazigh villages—my thoughts run wild and I feel the need to write to you.

The landscape is truly unbelievable. It’s a mix of infinite mountain peaks and barren valleys. The sun heats up the bus, and I keep exchanging sighs of desperation with others who are clearly more patient and used to this weather. Yet, they’re amused to see me, this young woman traveling alone. It seems as though my every move is meticulously tracked, or maybe I’m just self-absorbed. I stumble through discussions, trying to squeeze in the few words of Morocco’s Arabic dialect, Darija, that I’ve learned here and there. As I travel through the north, I feel as though I only catch a glimpse of people’s lives: men far away guiding their flocks of sheep and kids begging as they reach out to the bus windows. Then the road turns, and the kids are replaced with a view of the imposing ksour, an ancient mud and clay village. While the remaining castles have been wrecked by time, they are architectural masterpieces in my eyes. These images feel surreal, as though from a movie that I will never get to view entirely.

While I’m escaping the calmness of Rabat to take a break from my studies, I can’t help but think about what I’ve learned here. There’s something really overwhelming—and powerful—about witnessing the extent of class disparity, colonial repercussions, and developmental challenges—realities I’ve only encountered surrounded by four walls in an air-conditioned classroom. While on my way to Marrakesh a few days ago, when I looked away from the window, even for a minute, the metallic slums transformed into unblemished, renovated buildings. The two worlds are so disconnected from each other that the bridges—both old and new—connecting them feel strangely simple. The disparity became even clearer to me as I witnessed an old shepherd wearing a brown djellaba—the traditional robe—slowly crossing the road with his sheep, while an expensive-looking sports car zoomed by. Morocco’s inconsistent realities are indisputable. La calèche d’un bord, et le pétrole de l’autre.

I’m starting to see a paradoxical world here in Morocco, where values clash with beliefs and actions. Sometimes, men welcome me, feed me and discuss politics and religion with me, while their own mothers and daughters sit quietly without access to education nor the need for it, according to those same men. I am allowed to do and say as I please, but I’m shown the charming side of a place whose people are secretly choking from the inside out. My foreign naivety is entirely gone now, and I am very grateful for it. I have a feeling this journey will change my stance towards this asymmetric country.

I hope the winter isn’t too harsh on you.

Sincerely yours,


P.S. You know that night…I did get on the back of that stranger’s motorcycle in Marrakesh. Ha!

Feature graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee

Student Life

Slice of Life: Letter from Morocco

A student on exchange writes to their loved ones in Montreal

Feb. 25: Dear Katy,

I arrived in Morocco one month ago today. Time seems to go by so quickly sometimes. The weeks I’ve spent here have been so far from the reality I was expecting. I can still see the anxiety in my friends’ and family’s eyes and feel the tension in their embraces as we said goodbye just a few weeks ago. Africa. That single word—the entire continent carries so many misconceptions and prejudices. I was starting to feel so trapped in my own occidental perspective—and in other people’s ideas—that I embarked on this journey for many reasons. But in the end, I really just wanted to see for myself. And dear, the past few weeks have already shown me such an eclectic, extraordinary place.

I flew to Rabat and automatically wandered into the labyrinthine marketplace of the Medina. I’ve found myself in situations where I am literally the only woman present. It’s a man’s world, but one that is fast-changing. I was expecting to feel consistently repressed, but in reality, I feel empowered by witnessing such a sense of solidarity between women. I am not welcomed with judgmental looks, but with warm smiles. I don’t think I’ve ever entirely comprehended the power of my freedom as a western woman or questioned it until now. Here, I walk the streets and I feel privileged. Call me naive, but Rabat has been so good to me.

The Moroccans’ kindness is so special. I’m finding such a strong sense of community—from the way people share their meals, consistently offer their help, laugh together, and greet you with “Salaam Aleikum,” or “peace be upon you.” I know this is just a first impression, but it’s such a contrast from back home, on such a deep level, that I sometimes fear I’ll never want to come back. And while everyone does stare at me, sometimes calling mela gazelle,” “fromage,” or even “la blanche,” I’ve been responding with an open mind and my boundless sense of humour.

You know, most people think of Marrakech or Casablanca as the capital of Morocco, but it’s actually Rabat that holds the title since the country’s independence in 1912, and it has become so internationally accessible. We are barely one hour away from Casablanca, where I’ve heard life is chaotic and loud—even overwhelming—and yet, it’s so calm here. As I sit on the roof of the house I now call “home,” beautiful Rabat is alive and well before my eyes. I can’t resist glimpsing over my neighbours’ rooftops, where mixed colours of hanging clothes and blooming flowers add to the diversity of the scenery.

In front of me, the Bou Regreg river—which separates the neighbouring city Salé from Rabat—is circling the old, fortified neighbourhood of Kasbah des Oudayas like a thick knife cutting into butter. I have to squint as I write to you, as the reflection of the sun on the water is bouncing onto my white pages. I am in awe as I sit before the imposing, bright blue Atlantic’s work, and deeply wish I could teleport you here to show you. Montreal seems so far from me now. I’ll send you another letter soon. I can’t wait to tell you about my luck finding the gorgeous house I now live in with cats (yes, I am still very allergic, but I like to believe constant sneezing is now part of my charm), as well as the wild feasts and the musical nights I’ve been sharing with locals.

Beslama my dear friend!


Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

Student Life

An exchange student begins her first business: Roma Experiences

Concordia alumna, TingLi Lorigiano shares her travel exchange journey

Travelling across Europe, going on student exchange, learning a new language and starting a business all sound like goals many students have on their bucket list. One student not only managed to accomplish all these thing, but she did it in just one year.

Concordia alumna TingLi Lorigiano embarked on a year-long student exchange to Italy, during which time she also visited 30 cities in 10 countries. During her stay in Italy, Lorigiano founded Roma Experiences, the first Chinese tour operator service in Rome.

Mountains in the northern part of Italy at Bolzano-Trentino Alto Adige. Photo by TingLi Lorigiano

“I was at the Colosseum in Rome, and I realised that there weren’t any Chinese tour groups,” she said. “So, I inquired what the situation was like, and I decided that I would just start my own.”

Lorigiano is of Italian and Chinese descent and grew up immersed in both cultures. “I grew up with serious Chinese traditions and very traditional Italian traditions. I always had to explain Italian traditions to my Chinese friends and vice versa,” she said. “I felt that it’s important for Chinese visitors to learn about Italian traditions, so I wanted to help them learn about Italian culture.”

According to Lorigiano, no one working in the piazza of the Colosseum spoke Chinese—most were European. “There was a language barrier,” she said. “I connected the two worlds.” Lorigiano speaks fluent Mandarin and was learning to speak Italian at that time. She is now fluent in Italian.

Pasta at Osteria Da Fortunata in Rome, Italy. Photo by TingLi Lorigiano

She started by organizing tours where she would bring Chinese tourists to various restaurants and to visit historical sites such as the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.

With a major in genetic engineering and experience in the tech industry, Lorigiano had no problem setting up her own website and logistics for her business. After creating all the social media accounts, she hired 10 people to be part of her team. “I raised a team from one to 10 in my first three months in a country that I’ve never worked in before, and I didn’t yet speak fluent Italian. I hired tour guides and team promoters. We delivered wonderful historical experiences to Chinese tourists at least three times a day,” she said. “I had to be very meticulous with logistics. I had to buy tickets ahead of time, I had to know how the Colosseum ticketing system worked.”

According to Lorigiano, Roma Experiences has been running for the last eight months and has generated $40,000 CAD in sales revenue. “I was able to sustain myself for the last seven months in Italy. I used the money to travel, pay my rent, live in Rome,” she said.

The business is still running now that Lorigiano is home. The company’s vice-president took over the company. “It’s pretty cool to know that, before this year, in Rome, there were no Chinese tours available. And now they are,” Lorigiano said.

Creating Roma Experiences was an enriching leadership experience for Lorigiano. “It taught me a lot about business, and it showed me that my passions are not in tourism. My passion is in tech. I was way more interested in the website, e-commerce and the retail technology part of it.”

Camels in the Marrakech Morocco desert. Photo by TingLi Lorigiano

In November, Lorigiano is moving to London to work for a tech startup. “I knew that I wanted to work somewhere where the tech scene was more apparent, more vivid and vibrant, so London was the best choice for me,” she said.

Based on her experience, Lorigiano insisted that studying abroad can be life-changing. “You never know what is going to happen,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to go on exchange […] People grow up in Montreal, they work in Montreal, but there are so many other opportunities. Being Canadian, you have great visa opportunities as well.”

Lorigiano said she would advise students to check out all the job, volunteer and internship opportunities offered at Concordia to see what might interest them. “Make a list of things that you think are really important, and just highlight what you want to go visit or inquire about,” she said. “You need to think about what you are losing and what you are gaining.”

“You grow the most when you are put in the most uncomfortable situations such as travelling and being part of things that you are not comfortable with,” Lorigiano said. “It’s just a really great experience.”  

Photos courtesy of TingLi Lorigiano

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