The (back)stage of gaming community moderation

The gaming industry has done so much more than you think to keep the game community a better and safer place to be.

While the pandemic had a negative impact on various industries, the gaming industry was not only resilient but also consolidated itself in a growing profit loop. Even throughout the lockdowns, it stood out with revenues exceeding USD $174 billion, according to Newzoo.

As the gaming industry thrived, it created new job opportunities to meet the demands of a growing online audience. To understand the magnitude of this growth, Steam recorded an all-time high of 23.6 million average users in April 2020. Today, the gaming platform reported 33 million peak concurrent players. In 2022, at the tail end of the pandemic, streaming platform Twitch’s audience watched approximately 1.3 trillion minutes of video content, which is double the amount of time spent in 2019. With such rapid growth, commercial community moderators are essential to ensure safety and enjoyment in the virtual universe.

Monitoring progress, maintaining stability and ensuring the safety of those who publish and consume content on a digital gaming platform is a social and mental challenge. These people work to guarantee a healthy space for those who turn on their consoles and PCs to distract themselves. 

During the pandemic, commercial community moderators who were previously incognito on social media were called to the stage and the world learned about their valiant activities. In the post-pandemic era, the discussion surrounding the future of commercial community moderation has shifted with the arrival of the new act: the impact of artificial intelligence. As AI becomes a significant player in various sectors, including gaming community moderation, a careful and strategic approach is needed to balance the unique contributions of human moderators with the growing role of AI.

The tool seems to emerge more as a support rather than a replacement. The ability to understand contexts, judge critically, and discern terms, dialects, and distinct uses of language is better left to the human mind, but this does not erase the countless skills and contributions that AI can bring. The best match would be combining AI with human activity in game moderation, as AI could be used to lessen the burden placed on gaming moderators and optimize their work. Montreal is one of the hubs of gaming community moderation, and the companies based here have a unique perspective on the valuable activity of the moderators. Thinking about sharing the stage with AI could make their show even greater knowing that the tools can improve their activity and ensure a better place to be and play. 

In the evolving landscape of the gaming industry, the symbiotic relationship between human moderators and AI emerges as the key to maintaining an enjoyable virtual universe. As the sector continues to flourish, it’s clear that while AI is a valuable ally, it’s the harmonious fusion of human expertise and the tool capabilities that will shape the future of commercial community moderation in gaming.


Four decades since the start of the HIV pandemic: Then versus now

now over four decades since the start of the HIV health crisis, how is it being handled in Canada today?

During the summer of 1981, a headline from The New York Times warned people about a “rare cancer” found in young, healthy gay men. Nine months later, the first case of this mysterious illness was reported in Canada. This turned out not to be cancer at all but human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and could infect people of any age, race, and sexual orientation.

In 1983 alone, there were an estimated 3,000 to 7,000 new cases of HIV in Canada. Nearly 40 years later, there were approximately 1,520 new cases of HIV in 2020, and 1,722 new cases in 2021, according to reports by the Government of Canada.

In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) established the 90-90-90 targets to tackle this pandemic. Their aim is to ensure that 90 per cent of people with HIV know their status, 90 per cent of those who know their status are receiving treatment, and 90 per cent  of those who are on treatment have an undetectable viral load. 

Recent research published by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has found that people with undetectable levels of HIV cannot transmit the virus through sex.

Canada has made significant progress since the beginning of the HIV pandemic. In 2018, 87 per cent of people with HIV knew their infection status, 85 per cent of those who knew their status were taking treatment, and 94 per cent of those taking treatment for HIV achieved viral suppression. 

Despite this progress, Canada still has much to improve on. Montreal did not sign on to the Paris Declaration on Fast-Track Cities Ending the AIDS Epidemic, which put forth a new 95-95-95 target. As a result, HIV/AIDS organizations within the city feel as though Montreal is not doing enough to combat the pandemic. 

Another highly contested issue is Canada’s laws on HIV non-disclosure, which state that an individual’s HIV-positive status must be disclosed to their partner prior to any sexual activity that poses a “realistic possibility of transmission,” or risk being charged with sexual assault. This law has faced significant backlash due to overcriminalization, particularly among marginalized communities. 

Furthermore, many marginalized groups continue to struggle disproportionately compared to the rest of Canada. According to the Ontario HIV Epidemiology and Surveillance Initiative, in 2019, African, Caribbean and Black women represented 61 per cent of new diagnoses among women in Ontario. Out of 169 women, 21 per cent were reported to use injection drugs. 

A cohort study published by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network highlighted that individuals who experienced intimate violence from a partner were up to 50 per cent more likely to contract HIV. 

In 2018, the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange reported that only 78 per cent of Indigenous people in Canada who inject drugs were aware of their HIV status, with 83 per cent of those who knew their status receiving treatment, while only 64 per cent of those on treatment had an undetectable viral load.

Marginalized groups encounter barriers to access to treatment care for multiple reasons: the costs, the types of clinics and services available and the stigmas related to alcohol and drug use, to name a few. 

HIV organizations that provide support services witness this disparity first-hand. Kimberly Wong, the programs development manager at AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM), believes community organizations need more funding to help marginalized people living with HIV. 

“There are major shortages of resources and many post-lockdown crises that our sector has to deal with, so having more money to hire skilled workers would help a lot,” she said. 

ACCM provides a wide array of other services to the community. “Currently, we offer rapid HIV testing by appointment,” said Wong. They also offer one-on-one support for those living with HIV or hepatitis C, including referrals to other resources and individual counseling. 

For those interested in volunteering at ACCM, you can see their list of volunteer opportunities here

For more information regarding other support services, such as STI testing available in the Montreal area, including Concordia University, please refer to the list below.

Concordia University 

514-828-2424 ext. 3565

CLSC Metro (next to Sir George Williams campus)

1801 de Maisonneuve West

AIDS Community Care Montreal

2075 Rue Plessis



2055 Mansfield 




Montreal – Berri-UQAM 1485 Saint-Hubert Street 

Montreal – Crescent 2121 rue Crescent, Suite 2117

Quebec – 2360 Ch Ste-Foy, Suite G031

Sherbrooke – 30 Rue Marchant 

L’Actuel Medical Clinic 

1001 de Maisonneuve Est 



Broken Promises, Closed Community Organizations

Quebec community organizations have gone on strike across the province this past week as a result of intense pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers say they lack the funding needed to deal with the massive growth in the need for their services to house, feed, and provide care for vulnerable populations.

Video Editor Anthony-James Armstrong spoke with community sector workers at a massive demonstration near downtown Montreal on Tuesday, Feb. 22.


Flying off the shelves — the love for Squishmallows

One year later, let’s take a look at our plushie obsession

Last winter, it was hard to come by the squish.

I scoured the shelves of any Walmart I came across looking for a rare squish, even following stores on social media to know when they would come back in stock.

Yes, it may be a little shameful to admit that is how I spend my time, but I love the soft, squishy plushies. They come equipped with a name and a small description of what their aspirations are, and can become your fluffy best friend.

Although, now I find myself asking, where the hell am I gonna put all these damn Squishmallows? 

This all began when my partner’s mom innocently gifted me Tally the Tabby Cat, one of the original Squishmallows. Within a few months, I was obsessively placing my many squish on my bed every morning.

Maddie Laxer, a fellow squish-enthusiast, had a similar experience. After receiving a squish as a gift from her bestie, she suddenly found herself immersed in the world of round fluffy friends. “It just turned into such a fun thing, trying to find all these little animals.”

After all, the hunt is half the fun.

After finding fame on TikTok, Squishmallows became virtually impossible to find in stores. Not only were me, my cousin, and my cousin’s friend all looking for them, but a slew of resellers appeared out of the woodwork, driving up the price of our round furry friends online and in stores. All of a sudden they were not only hard to find, but they were exclusive.

That’s when things got interesting. It became a real hunt, searching for the cutest companion for the best price (the big squishies retail for $20-25, pretty reasonable in my opinion). “You never know when they’re sort of gonna pop up,” said Maddie.

Although she occasionally went out on hunts herself, Maddie’s mom was the main culprit responsible for her daughter’s Squishmallow collection. “It sort of turned into a fun little, like, activity with me and my mom,” explained Maddie.

Last year, as outings were limited to essentials only, and many of us weren’t able to go out to browse for fun anymore, Maddie’s mom would utilize her weekly trips to Winners to hunt for squish. She would send photos of neatly stacked rows of them to her daughter, asking which one would best suit her collection. “She started going out of her way every time to be at Winners trying to see which ones were there.”

Squishmallows aren’t just useful for cuddling and staying cozy, they also help to build a community, and helped some to stay connected during a long lockdown.

Much of the content posted on social media showed us how friends and family of Squishmallow enthusiasts would get in on the fun of the hunt. Often accompanied by captions such as, my grandpa found me the cutest squish today! or get yourself a boyfriend who hunts squishmallows with you.

In a time where — and I don’t have to remind you of this — the air felt tense, everyone was locked inside and forced to face the realities of a global pandemic, maybe we all needed a furry friend to rely on.

Teddy bears and plushies were a huge part of our childhood. A recent study found that four in 10 Americans still find comfort in their childhood stuffed animals. So it’s not so surprising young adults have taken an interest in this new plushie craze.

In the ‘90s it was Beanie Babies, now it’s Squishmallows.

But, I will reiterate: what the hell am I supposed to do with the mountain of stuffed animals I have in my small Montreal apartment?

I’ve shoved a substantial amount of my collection up on a shelf I can’t reach without the help of a chair. But still, a select few stay on my bed, desk chair, and couch at all times. I find it fun to switch them out depending on my mood. For example, I currently have Dawn the Fawn out, since she’s a winter-themed squish. Fitting for the recent snow, and cold weather.

But there are other solutions if you wish to get rid of them entirely. I’d recommend finding a toy drive to donate to, or even a thrift store with a large toy section. Maybe you have a relative that just had a baby.

Regardless of where the squish ends up, they will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only did they single-handedly throw me back into childhood, but they also represent my biggest financial shame… don’t tell my parents.


Photo collage by Catherine Reynolds


Montreal’s nightlife returns, high schools inch closer to normalcy

Following a 19-month shutdown, karaoke bars and nightclubs reopen in all of Quebec

On Nov. 15, dancing and karaoke singing became part of Montreal’s nightlife once again as Santé Québec continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, high school students in the city are no longer required to wear a face mask while seated in a classroom.

Karaoke bars and dance floors were forced to close in March 2020 and experienced a longer shutdown across Quebec than in most Canadian provinces and U.S. states. 19 months later, the long-awaited reopening has brought mixed results for Montreal’s nightlife.

La Muse karaoke bar, located near Concordia’s SGW campus, has yet to witness its usual, pre-pandemic volume of customers. Having worked at the establishment for nearly five years, Jack Yu said the reopening did not result in a full house of excited singers.

“It’s hard for us. We were the first ones ordered to be closed, and now we’re the last ones who are able to reopen — it’s been financially challenging all along,” said Yu in an interview with The Concordian. “We had a lot of Asian customers for karaoke, and many of these [international] students went back home, got locked down in Asia and just couldn’t come back,” he explained.

Yu also suggested that some may still be hesitant to attend such venues as the pandemic continues, adding that “the business is still taking a big hit despite being reopened.”

However, nightclubs witnessed a vibrant scene on St. Laurent Blvd. and downtown on Friday night, with hundreds of university students eager to step on the dance floor. While physical dystancing is not required inside the venues because of the vaccine passport system, Health Minister Christian Dubé made it clear that face coverings must still be worn while dancing.

Rocco Balboni, manager of the Jet Nightclub on Crescent St., said the first dancing night since the COVID-19 lockdown was largely successful for both the clients and the business.

“It was a full house and the experience has been the same as during pre-COVID days. Of course we try to enforce the mask rule, but other than that, it’s back to normal,” he said.

When asked about the unpredictability of COVID-19 and pandemic-related restrictions, Balboni noted, “We’ll take it one day at a time and thrive to push forward. That’s been our philosophy since day one, and we’ll keep going in that direction.”

High school students have also been included in the latest wave of easing restrictions, since wearing a face mask in classrooms is no longer mandatory while seated. Ora Bar, a Concordia University journalism student, has a sister who witnessed the rule changes first-hand as a Secondary 5 student at Chateauguay’s Louis-Philippe-Paré school.

“My younger sister feels quite comfortable with the new rules, and she knows that pretty much everyone is vaccinated. Her classmates already took off masks for eating in classrooms before, so she believes the risk has almost remained the same,” said Bar.

Around 85 per cent of her sister’s classmates now attend classes without a face mask. “She said the remaining students who aren’t yet comfortable with taking off their mask aren’t obliged to do so, but those who make this choice — like herself — now have a chance to live normally again,” Bar explained.

Masks still remain mandatory in elementary schools, as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged five to 11 was only approved by Health Canada on Nov. 19. Dubé announced that Quebec aims to administer one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to every child in this age category by Christmas. 

Meanwhile, Quebec Premier François Legault suggested that “most [public health] measures will disappear” for everyone in the province by early 2022, if the children’s vaccination rate reaches 80 per cent.


Photograph by Catherine Reynolds


Winter exchange programs resume: McGill students express their thoughts on exchange programs on their reinstatement

McGill students share their frustration after the university reinstated their exchange program after cancelling it two weeks prior.

On Oct. 5, McGill University cancelled its student exchanges for the Winter 2022 semester due to the Canadian government’s global travel advisory, which advised Canadians to “Avoid non-essential travel” amid ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, in an email sent to students on Oct. 22, McGill announced the possibility of resuming exchanges for the winter semester due to the removal of the global travel advisory. In light of this news, many McGill students expressed their frustration with the university’s decision to cancel exchanges abroad for the third time, while Concordia University’s exchange program operated throughout the pandemic.

“Why can’t McGill logistically deal with this, when there is a school right down the street that’s doing it and has been doing it throughout this pandemic?” asked Max Garcia, a third-year geography student at McGill.

Discouraged and frustrated, Garcia took it upon himself to start a petition demanding a clear answer from the university.

After reaching 500 signatures, Garcia contacted the university and met with Fabrice Labeau, the deputy provost of student life and learning at McGill University, to further discuss how the cancellation affected students’ academic plans.

“People planned their lives around this. I took a course last winter in preparation for the exchange because it is a required thing that only happens in the winter, and I was supposed to take it this year. It’s things like that that [Labeau] just wasn’t getting,” said Garcia.

With Global Affairs Canada lifting the worldwide travel advisory for fully vaccinated Canadians, McGill is currently working with host universities to determine whether reinstatement of the Winter 2022 exchanges will be possible for some students. 

But Madison Gordon, a third-year psychology major at McGill, shares the same frustration as Labeau.

“McGill was too quick to cancel the exchange and not look ahead at what the consequences would be. While they likely were not aware of when the global travel advisory would be lifted, I think that reinstating it after cancelling it was just a slap in the face, especially after many cancelled their accommodations [and] flights.”

The cancellation and reinstatement of the exchange program was a disruption to many other students. McGill stated in their email that exchanges actually happening are not guaranteed; however, the university is working with students and partner universities to ensure students proceed with their exchanges.

“It’s very possible that the host universities will have given away our spots to other international students. It’s not even a guarantee that I’m going to be able to go,” said Allie Fishman, a third-year management student.

All three students have stated that going on exchange is a personal choice, and a risk they are willing to take despite the pandemic.

“I just think it was kind of strange that McGill was making that decision on my behalf. When you know, there are already international students that come to McGill,” said Fishman.

According to Téo L. Blackburn, director of Concordia International, which represents the university in partnerships with over 180 educational facilities, said their team talked a lot about making a distinction between allowing exchanges and promoting them.

“It’s important that everybody understands that we weren’t recommending that you go on exchange. We are allowing you to go on exchange and making sure that if you were going on exchange, you are well informed, and you understood that we were there in case something happened,” Blackburn said.

Though McGill and UQAM based their decision on the Canadian Government’s global travel advisory recommendations, the Concordia International team decided to continue exchanges to give students the freedom of choice.  

“I don’t know that I personally would have gone on exchange during COVID, and I know some of my international leaders and officers may not, and others may have, and that’s personal to them,” said Blackburn. “It’s personal to the students who do end up going.”


Photo collage by Kit Mergaert


The U.S./Canada land border is re-opening: Here’s what that means

Some hopeful travelers say that the opportunity to cross the U.S./Canada land border should have happened a while ago

The world’s longest undefended land border will re-open to fully vaccinated Canadians for non-essential travel on Nov. 8.

The land border between Canada and the United States first closed on March 20, 2020. After 19 months, those with American friends and family or those just looking to get some cross-border shopping done will now be able to cross the land border.

The news was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Breanna Sherman, 23, normally visits her family in Florida once a year for the holidays, but border closures have barred her from doing so.

“This December, it will have been two years since we last saw them,” said Sherman.

Among the family who Sherman has missed is her cousin’s newborn daughter, born in May 2020, which the pandemic has kept her from meeting.

“I hoped I would see her in December of 2020, but that didn’t happen,” said Sherman. “When I eventually meet her now, she’ll be one and a half, not even a baby anymore, which is sad.”

“It will be fun to not only be in Florida for the first time in two years, but also continue that tradition of driving and sitting in the car with my family for two days.”

Michelle Lam, 22, says that although she’s enthusiastic about visiting the U.S. again, the lineups she expects at the border are worrying.

“I feel like it’s going to be chaos at the border,” said Lam. “I’m kind of nervous about it.”

While air travel into the United States has remained open to Canadians with proof of a negative COVID-19 test administered three days before they travel, some feel that driving is a more affordable and easier alternative.

“Not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford to fly. It’s just more accessible to everyone that wants to travel,” said Sherman.

Lam shares Sherman’s sentiment, saying “I feel very safe travelling by land, because it’s me and my car driving across the border as opposed to flying in the States, where I have to go through an airport and sit in a tube with however many people for X amount of hours.”

Before travellers get ready to hop over the border for a weekend, there are a few details to pay attention to.

All travellers, whether coming in by land, sea, or air, must be fully vaccinated in order to enter the United States and are required to show their proof of vaccination.

After speculation, the United States confirmed that travelers with  a combination of either FDA-approved doses, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen, or those approved by the World Health Organization, which include AstraZeneca, are considered fully vaccinated.

Travelers arriving by land or sea — that is by car, bus, boat, ferry or train — from the United States must provide proof of a negative PCR test taken 72 hours of their expected arrival into Canada.

The news of the re-opening did not come without criticism from hopeful travelers.

“It really makes no sense to me that it’s taken the U.S. this long to open the border,” said Sherman. “Not only are our vaccination rates way higher, but they could have just asked for proof of vaccination and a recently negative Covid test.”

The Canadian government reopened its land border to U.S. travelers in early August. As it currently stands, 74 per cent of Canadians are considered fully vaccinated, compared to 57 per cent of Americans.

Lily Cowper is a dual-citizen of the U.S. and Canada. She has flown to Florida and Virginia twice to visit her family since May 2021. Her travels did not come without complications.

“Everytime I went, there was so much drama,” said Cowper.

Cowper said that the cost and requirements for COVID-19 tests made visiting her family in the U.S. a cyclical headache.

“Every time I went back and forth, I had to pay hundreds of dollars extra and had to change my flight,” Cowper explained.

Cowper and her boyfriend went to visit her family in Virginia in September. After taking multiple tests to ensure they received results in time for their return flight to Canada, the test that did come on time contained a lab error. As a result, they were turned away from their flight.

Cowper says that she and her boyfriend each paid the equivalent of $300 CAD to receive a last-minute airport test to re-enter Canada.

“I’m happy that they’re finally opening up [the land border] and I hope they drop the testing requirement,” said Cowper.

The option to cross the land border into the U.S. without proof of a negative COVID-19 test is a cost-effective decision that Cowper says should have happened a while ago.

“It’s about time. Why are we constantly living in the past if we’re vaccinated?”

For Cowper, the opportunity to get in her car and drive to the U.S. could not come sooner. She says that the re-introduction of a more simplified way of travelling from one country to another is necessary.

“This whole two years has been so complicated, the rules are always changing, they don’t make sense,” Cowper added. “All I want to do is visit my family.”


Graphic by James Fay


COVID measures update: Entertainment venues can operate at full capacity as of Oct. 8

Among other larger venues, the Bell Centre is now open at full capacity. Many smaller venues have shared their disappointments

On Sept. 30 the Quebec officials announced that entertainment venues such as cinemas, theatres, arenas and stadiums can return to full-capacity seating beginning on Oct. 8. This marks a big step in Quebec’s gradual return to normalcy. However, there are no changes for bars and other local music venues which offer largely standing room only. They will continue to operate at 50 per cent capacity.

In the announcement, Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s national director of public health, explained his reasoning for easing the measures because of the importance of sports culture.

“There is always a logic when we do things. We are treating sports as culture in the same perspectives,” Arruda said.

Just like any other venue, larger venues must follow the following criteria: assigned seatings, vaccine passports and masks at all times, except when eating or drinking. The one significant difference is where bars require social distancing and smaller capacity, a larger venue like the Bell Centre won’t.

“[It’s] good news for hockey fans, it’s good news for the economy, it’s good news for culture, I think it’s good news for everybody,” encouraged Christian Dubé, minister of health and social services.

Among the many businesses affected by the pandemic, the bar industry has faced tremendous struggles to keep its business flowing. Many owners of local bars have shared their opinion on the double standard.

Austin Wrich, the owner of the Diving Bell Social Club, a multimedia performance venue located in the heart of Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood, believes the government’s decision is to benefit the economy.

“It shows a lack of understanding of what culture actually is. I’m personally not much of a hockey fan,” said Wrich. “I’m sure a lot of people are excited to go to the Bell Centre to go watch hockey, but not to be too cynical, it definitely seems like it’s very much a case of ‘that’s where the money is at.’”

“I just don’t see how 21,000 people at the Bell Centre is more safe than people all vaccinated at the Diving Bell. It doesn’t really make sense. It just seems like it’s more of a political move,” Wrich explained.

Jean-François Beaudoin, manager at Café Campus, a bar, concert venue and nightclub located in Montreal, shared the same frustrations as Wrich.

Beaudoin agreed the closing of bars and clubs was necessary at the beginning of the pandemic, but he doesn’t understand why Café Campus and other nightclubs can’t currently operate fully.

“We’re starting to get angry. Not because we’re still closed, [but] because they are not talking about us. They’re not telling us why we’re still closed. Where are the facts right now? I don’t see facts. I see politics,” said Beaudoin.

Health Minister Christian Dubé says that he will ease restrictions for bars and restaurants in a few weeks if the province sees a reduction in the number of COVID-19 infections.


Photograph by Lou Neveux-Pardijon


Pop-up vaccine clinic at Concordia

The CIUSSS West-Central Montreal is having two pop-up vaccinations clinics on campus

Despite Montreal’s 80 per cent vaccination rate of those who have received one dose, the vaccination effort is still going strong in the city. As part of the efforts, Concordia has partnered with the Centres intégrés universitaires de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS) West-Central Montreal to host two pop-up vaccination clinics.

The first pop-up clinic was held on Sept. 14 in the EV building. According to Barry Morgan, a media relations specialist for the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, over 67 people got either their first or second vaccine shot.

“We decided to establish pop-up clinics in various areas of our territory for the purpose of convenience, making it easier for people to get their vaccines,” said Morgan, explaining that they extended the hours of the majority of pop-up clinics outside of regular business hours, to be more accessible for people. “We go to them instead of them having to come to us.”

According to Morgan, the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal has set up pop-up vaccination clinics at schools, daycares and religious institutions in their area, with more than 10,000 vaccines administered to date.

“Over the past months, we have been actively promoting vaccines to our community,” said Vannina Maestracci, a Concordia University spokesperson. She stated that Concordia is keen to join the CIUSSS West-Central in promoting vaccinations on campus.

According to Santé Montréal, approximately 80 per cent of Montrealers have their first vaccine shot, and 74 per cent are adequately vaccinated. Over 3,194,727 vaccinations have been administered in the city.

In Montreal, 91 per cent of people who are 18-29 years old have their first vaccination, and 79 per cent have both vaccinations. 

In the whole of Quebec, 77 per cent of people have their first dose, with 72 per cent being fully vaccinated — compared to Ontario, where 74 per cent of the population has their first dose, and only 69 per cent are considered fully vaccinated.

According to a press release by the Canadian government in July, Canada is one of the world leaders in vaccinations, with over 80 per cent of the population having received their first vaccination.

The next clinic will be held at Concordia on Sept. 21 at the Loyola Campus in the FC building. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. an appointment is needed, but from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. no appointment is necessary. Concordia students will need their Quebec health card, or photo identification if not from Quebec. 

If students get their first vaccine, an appointment will be automatically made for their second vaccination.


Photo by Catherine Reynolds


IKEA furniture shortage creates challenges for returning students

Global shipping issues and high demand led to product scarcity in Montreal’s outlet

The world’s largest furniture retailer does not have enough supply to match the demand that comes with the start of the academic year, with many of its mattresses, sofas, beds, and kitchen items out of stock since mid-August.

For some Concordia students returning to Montreal, the move-in process has been more challenging than usual, as the supply issue continues as of the second week of university classes.

Luna Ferrari, a third-year communications student from Italy, has had to rely on her family as a temporary solution, due to missing a bed and a mattress for her downtown apartment.

“I am lucky that my uncle lives in Montreal, so I could stay at his house while the products I wanted were sold out. I didn’t want to spend 100 dollars on an inflatable mattress — which is something that my roommates had to do since they had no other choice,” said Ferrari.

When the student went to IKEA in person one week after an unsuccessful online order, she ended up buying just a kitchen table and a rug, as her other preferred items were still unavailable.

IKEA Canada told The Concordian that its low stock availability is the result of its disrupted supply chain due to COVID-19. Since 2020, the transportation of goods by sea has been unreliable as port closures and cargo ship standstills significantly delayed the delivery process.

“In addition, at IKEA, we are seeing higher customer demand as more people are spending increased time at home. […] We want to thank our customers for their patience and understanding as we work with suppliers to restock their favourite IKEA products,” stated Lisa Huie, the public relations leader of IKEA Canada.

The company has bought its own shipping containers and is chartering additional vessels in an effort to reduce delivery times and meet the historically high demand. IKEA also began transporting its products by transcontinental rail from China, all the way to Europe, to avoid a production crisis.

Montreal is not the only region experiencing such shortages: up to 10 per cent of all furniture items were also out of stock in Ireland and the U.K. as of Sept. 9. Despite the company’s efforts to resolve the global issue, university students continue to feel the impact.

Ferrari explained that, “The problem is not the lack of options in general, but the lack of affordable options. As students, we all have similar budgets, so we all want to buy the same products that would look nice for our apartments while also not being very expensive. It was frustrating to visit a store that I personally like and then leave almost empty-handed.”

The student decided to purchase a bed via Amazon for the first time, which was delivered to her doorstep in just three days. While feeling relieved about finally having a place to sleep in her new home, Ferrari said that balancing studies with furniture shopping has been “nothing but a stressful experience.”


Photo by Catherine Reynolds.


Montreal’s Bocadillo restaurant continues to be a beacon for Canada’s Venezuelan community

“No one else did it the way we did, it was beautiful,” said restaurant owner Marco Russo

Prevailing over tough circumstances is nothing new for Bocadillo, a family business born from the fires of political upheaval, migration and perseverance. What started 13 years ago as an unprecedented effort to bring Venezuelan cuisine to the Montreal scene, has proven — in the middle of the pandemic — to be a triumph for Venezuelan entrepreneurship.

At 6918 St-Laurent Blvd., the doors to Bocadillo Bistro are closed for the day. The lights inside the restaurant are off and the occasional passer-by stops to glance at the immense and colourful menu pasted on the restaurant’s front window. The inside is a scene of patriotic elegance, composed of Venezuelan art on the walls, and wooden tables scattered across the length of the large establishment, clean and intact.

Across from one of the tables sits Marco Russo, the owner of it all. He speaks with ease and patience, in his native tongue of Spanish.

“We owned a flower shop, back in ‘78 I think it was, in Las Mercedes,” he recalls.

The scene conjured by Marco Russo is one of nostalgia — what used to be the Venezuelan capital’s commercial centre; a beautiful scene of bustling businesses and life.

“My father owned an Italian restaurant there too,” adding, “for about 35 odd years, my aunts were the cooks and it was very successful.”

Success for the family businesses lasted through the 80s and 90s, then in the 2000s it was Russo and his wife, Laura Uzcategui de Russo, who were continuing the legacy. But political turmoil in Venezuela soon upended stability for many businesses, including theirs.

It was the time of the nation’s socialist revolution, when the election of Hugo Chavez as president in 1999 changed the face of small and large Venezuelan businesses alike. The socialist fever for nationalization overtook many industries, and private businesses were put under pressure by the Chavista administration.

“There was so much insecurity, and not just economic,” sighs Russo. “The government had these committees in place, they’d close businesses at will and you’d have to pay them to let you open, It became difficult to even exist.”

The turning point came in 2008. Russo nonchalantly describes in detail the everyday dangers he faced amid the social unrest of the country. “I was mugged several times, kidnapped once, until finally the danger affected one of my kids and that’s when I knew things had gotten too ugly, and we left,” Russo recalls.

They came to Canada in search of better opportunities; their story reflecting that of Venezuelan immigrants across the globe. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 4.6 million Venezuelan nationals fled the country between 2016 and 2019 alone.

Meanwhile, the idea for Bocadillo came at a time when Venezuelan food was far from a Montreal staple.

“Like all beginnings it was very difficult, we thought we’d close. People didn’t understand Venezuelan cuisine, they didn’t even know what an arepa was,” he said, explaining that in those days the restaurant would make a mere $20 to $30 daily.

Arepas are the star dish of this Montreal restaurant. Made from pre-cooked corn flour, this traditional food is shaped and cooked into a semi-flat circle, which is then cut in half and stuffed with a variety of fillings such as minced meat, cheese or black beans. It has been, as Russo calls it, “the comfort food” of Venezuelan people since pre-Columbian times, and it is considered to be a staple of the likes of bread, being served for breakfast, lunch or dinner across the country.

The main counter at Bocadillo’s sister location, nestled in 3677 St-Laurent Blvd., is a mosaic of beautiful photographs showing customers what different kinds of iconic arepas actually look like.

Temmy Mthethwa, a second-year Biology student at Concordia University, said this particular Bocadillo location was a fantastic first-taste of Venezuelan culture.

“It definitely made me want to try more Venezuelan food, I’m looking forward to seeing what else they’ve got to offer.” Mthethwa said that the arepa in particular was a real change from the cuisine of her home country, Eswatini.

This kind reaction is not unusual. Russo explains with a smile on his face that it was the wonders of Venezuelan cuisine which saved the restaurant from going under in its early days. Just two weeks before they were supposed to close they received a review in the Montreal Gazette, “The writer liked our food so much we told us he’d come back on the weekend.”

The article, which included a raving review and photographs of Russo’s food, brought a stream of customers to Bocadillo that very weekend. “That review was our guardian angel, it saved us,” he laughs.

From then on, the restaurant took flight. Creating not only a popular demand for Venezuelan food, but also establishing itself as a cultural embassy for Venezuelan art, music and performances. The business made a tradition of booking Venezuelan artists to perform throughout the year.

Russo pulls out his phone, looking for a video to show what the artistic spectacles used to be like before the pandemic. He presses play and a symphony of drums, maracas, harps and guitars begin to blast from the phone’s speaker. The video shows the restaurant we’re sitting in, packed with customers dancing to traditional Venezuelan music on the main floor.

The events would gather anywhere from 150 to 180 people, with customers frequently coming in from the street to see what all the commotion was about.

“For Canadian people, those kinds of experiences were incredible. It’s something they would only have seen on vacations or in movies,” said Russo with excitement. “No one else did it the way we did, it was beautiful.”

For now, COVID-19 restrictions have left Bocadillo Bistro unable to host such events, but Russo’s memories of the glittering potential are enough to fuel his optimism.

“We were always happy to let artists express themselves here. It was an investment we really wanted to make, and hope to make again in the future someday.” Russo adds.

Although Bocadillo’s Little Italy location cannot currently show its usual flare, Russo said their St-Laurent branch — which will reach its 13th anniversary soon — is still thriving because of how unique it is.

“At this stage our business is very well established. Even with the pandemic we can keep going,” he said confidently.

Although the business has taken its share of impact from the pandemic, Russo said they have persevered by looking towards the future.

“It’s a shame what’s happened to many restaurants because of this pandemic, but we have to be willing to reinvent ourselves,” said Russo. “You can have a traditional way of doing things, but you also have to be able to evolve and change.”

Bocadillo’s origin story and their path to success is a ray of victory for Venezuelan entrepreneurs across Montreal, and leaves little doubt as to the restaurant’s ability to persevere and triumph through these difficult times.

Photographs by Gabriela Villarroel 

How to give back during the pandemic

Volunteering opportunities in our city

“I have been in Girl Guides since I was five years old,” said Kaitlynn Rodney, a Journalism student at Concordia University. “So I had people who volunteered to help me until I was about 18. Then I became a leader, so now I teach and help out with the little girls.”

While Montreal enters the third wave of the pandemic, people are finding ways to dedicate their time, online or in-person, to their community. In a time that we feel more alone and isolated than ever before, volunteering is a great way to stay connected.

According to an article published by the Bayshore Foundation for Empowered Living, “It’s often said that volunteers are the backbone of a community. What happens when a public health crisis forces them to stay at home? The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the landscape of volunteering, both in terms of volunteer opportunities and volunteer availability, and the disruption is likely to continue for months to come.”

Rodney spends several hours a week volunteering as a Girl Guides leader. But ever since the pandemic hit, all the meetings have been moved online. 

“It has been kinda nice. I work with seven and eight-year-olds and it’s been a breath of fresh air because they don’t understand what the pandemic is,” said Rodney.

Even though the meetings are online, the young girls are still keen on participating and getting the full experience. “It’s like they are right there in the room with you. It feels pretty good because they leave the room with excitement,” said Rodney.

Every week, a lot of planning goes into each virtual volunteering session, so it’s as enjoyable as possible for the girls. “It depends on the week, we meet for about an hour and a half. We spend about an hour and a half delivering activities and then about another hour planning the activities. So it’s probably around four to five hours a week that I dedicate to volunteering,” said Rodney.

For those interested in volunteering with the Girl Guides of Canada, you can find more information here. After filling out the application form, the prospective volunteer will be paired with a unit for an interview, and will undergo a background check. 

For people who are interested in volunteering in-person, The Open Door Mtl, which is a homeless shelter located near Place-des-Arts metro station, is always looking for new volunteers to join the team.

Ever since the pandemic began in April 2020, Max Seguéla has been a frequent volunteer at this shelter. He shared his feelings about volunteering during these past couple months.

“I sometimes feel pretty drained after one of the shifts here, physically and emotionally because we are dealing with homeless people. However because I work with people, it doesn’t feel as isolating and gives me a sense of purpose,” said Seguéla.

To learn more about joining The Open Door’s volunteering team, email the volunteering coordinator, Vanessa Gagnon, who will guide you through the application process.

There’s no wrong answer in choosing between volunteering online or in-person; both are extremely fulfilling. A medical study published in June 2020 found that people who volunteer just two hours a week can significantly improve their physical and mental health.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Eric Kim, a research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told CNN,  “Volunteering might help enrich our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and optimism, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depressive symptoms, and hopelessness.”

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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