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News

Concordia’s Annual SCPA Panels are Underway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Visuals by James Fay

Categories
Arts

Going To, Making Do, Passing Just the Same: exploring attachment to territory

The Other Side of the Fence: Racialized Geographies and Gestures of Reappropriation is the first of a series of events  

The Other Side of the Fence: Racialized Geographies and Gestures of Reappropriation took place on Nov. 8. The half-day seminar was hosted by Suzy Basile, Rémy-Paulin Twahirwa, and Nayla Naoufal, as part of the exhibition Going To, Making Do, Passing Just the Same, which is currently postponed due to government restrictions.

Curated by Edith Brunette and Francois Lemieux, Going To, Making Do, Passing Just the Same will be exhibited at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, located inside Concordia’s J.W. McConnell Building. 

Basile is from the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci Quebec and is a teacher at the School of Indigenous Studies at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT).

Twahirwa is a community organizer and a Ph.D. student at the London School of Economics, who has gained expertise in issues related to discrimination, racism, and socio-economic inequalities and has been involved in social justice causes, such as human rights, particularly those of (im)migrants and refugees.

Naoufal was born in Beirut and is based in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Naoufal is a cultural worker, art writer and independent researcher. She is a member of the Centre de recherche en éducation et formation relatives à l’environnement et l’écocitoyenneté at UQAM. Naoufal works with Indigenous artists in Quebec, Canada, and the world, and particularly artists and collectives working with environmental concepts and practices.

The Other Side of the Fence: Racialized Geographies and Gestures of Reappropriation was initially organized to be a live panel. Due to the pandemic, it had to be moved online.

The panel reflects on the upcoming exhibition and the conditions of people’s existence on what is currently known as Canadian territory.

Brunette and Lemieux want to explore the connection of land to people, specifically how land has been modified and damaged for many years due to society’s colonialist and capitalist ways of living. Themes such as the sense of belonging and the connection created with a certain territory as well will be discussed.

The panel focused on environmental racism and its relation to population displacements, the notion of territory, and the attachment that people feel to the land. It also pointed out the realities that Indigenous and other racialized people have been living in relation to the land, such as environmental racism, political dispossession, and mass incarceration.

Guests speakers also touched on subjects such as the resistance from Indigenous and racialized people that has been expressed throughout the years against dispossession, a person or a group of people being deprived of their land or property.

Two other events will be presented either online or on site, depending on future government restrictions. The events include a presentation of the performance Le Fil des jours by researcher and choreographer Catherine Lavoie-Marcus on the semi-abandoned grounds of the Royal Victoria Hospital and a discussion with Marisa Berry-Méndez, a researcher and writer who has expertise in immigration and settlement issues.

Going To, Making Do, Passing Just the Same remains postponed until further notice, and The Other Side of the Fence: Racialized Geographies and Gestures of Reappropriation will be available online

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News

What experts think about human rights violations in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photos by Brittany Clarke

Categories
Arts

MUTEK: Future of Immersive Spectacle Panel 2019

Video by Calvin Cashen

Feature photo by Sébastien Roy

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Student Life

Artificial Intelligence as an agent of change

AI and human rights forum generates global discussions

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

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

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

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

Troll Patrol: fighting abuse against women on Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethics and AI

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

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

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

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

Bias, feminism and the campaign to stop killer robots

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

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

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

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

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

AI and disinformation campaigns

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

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

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

AI and the rules-based international order

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

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

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

Feature photo by Hannah Ewen

Categories
Sports

Thompson trio proud of lacrosse heritage

The three brothers highlight the importance of Indigenous origins of the game

Growing up as part of the Onondaga Nation, just outside of Syracuse, New York, Jeremy Thompson knew he had different talents than everyone else, especially when it came to lacrosse. The Haudenosaunee people believe lacrosse originated from a game between land and air animals, with each animal using its own strength to its advantage.

“The different animals brought a different perspective [to the game],” Thompson said. “For me, it was important to spend time with the elders in my community to learn the history [of lacrosse] and understand how these gifts came into me.”

Jeremy, 32 years old, was in Montreal with two of his younger brothers, Jerome, 30, and Miles, 28, for a talk as part of First Voices Week at Concordia on Feb. 7. All three play lacrosse professionally, as well as their youngest brother, Lyle, 26, who was not able to attend the event. Lacrosse is a huge part of their community today, and every year, people gather to play a ceremonial game.

“In the spring, to protect lacrosse players, there’s a medicine game between hundreds of people, from kids to elders,” Jeremy said. “It brings the community together, and we get out there to make sure all the lacrosse players have a safe season.”

From left to right: Jerome, Miles, and Jeremy Thompson. Photo by Gabe Chevalier.

The Thompson brothers were educated in an all-Mohawk elementary school and went to public school in the fifth grade. They didn’t speak English, so Jerome felt out of place when he and Jeremy needed to be taught the language separately from all the other kids. The two played lacrosse right through high school and into university. Jeremy played at Syracuse University, while Miles and Lyle played at the University of Albany. Jerome is the only brother who did not attend university, but he still played while studying at the Onondaga Community College.

“My dad sat all of us down and asked what we all wanted to be when we got older,” Jerome said. “We wanted to be professional lacrosse players. But he wanted us to be educated lacrosse players. He really wanted us to use lacrosse as a vehicle to an education.”

Jerome, Miles and Lyle play together for the Georgia Swarm of the National Lacrosse League (NLL), while Jeremy plays for the Saskatchewan Rush. While playing, they don’t forget about their community.

“When I’m playing and the national anthem is going off, it’s not my song, so I make my own,” Jeremy said. “I think about all the things that have come before me, and that will come after me.”

Miles represents his heritage both in the way he wears his hair in a braid, and in his style of play. “I respect my opponent and the ref, and I’m not going out there to chirp the ref or the other team,” he said.

When each brother turned 18, their father gave them the option of cutting their hair short. All of them chose to keep it in a braid, but Lyle’s was the subject of racism last month. In an away game against the Philadelphia Wings on Jan. 12, the in-arena announcer, Shawny Hill, said “Let’s snip the ponytail.”

“Things like that, I just try to forget about,” Jerome said about the incident. “Deep down, he has no idea what our hair means to us.”

Jeremy, who said his hair has been purposely pulled twice during his NLL career, hopes the incident turns into an opportunity to educate others. Hill was fired from his job, while Lyle released a statement in an effort to teach people that Indigenous people have their “own languages, music, culture and traditions.”

https://twitter.com/lyle4thompson/status/1084278560913797121

“The league is trying to educate our opponents,” Miles added. “They’re trying to push more media about where the game came from.”

Main photo by Gabe Chevalier.

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Student Life

Collective intervention is needed

Everyone, especially artists, are economic agents for deregulation and gentrification

In a dimly lit basement, at the end of meandering halls beneath the performance hall of the Rialto Theatre, an eclectic group of concerned citizens gathered to openly discuss the nexus of artists, real estate inflation and shifting cultural demographics.

Gentrification: The Role of Artists in Changing Neighbourhoods took place on Saturday, Sept. 29 as part of a collaboration between POP Montreal Symposium and Concordia’s Fine Art Student Alliance (FASA). The array of panelists included both artists and those who work with non-profit social housing organizations and as community organizers in neighbourhoods affected by gentrification.

Cathy Inouye, a musician who has fought against many issues related to housing and poverty for more than 10 years, opened her segment by saying that an important thing to remember when talking about gentrification is that human beings are losing their homes or being evicted from their apartments. Faiz Abhuani, the co-founder of Brique Par Brique, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create affordable living spaces for marginalized people, agreed.

“I think it’s important to start with that baseline,” he said. “The reason why we’re talking about this is because there are real effects on real people.”

Gentrification is a multi-faceted issue that “happens across the city, not just in areas where artists are moving,” Inouye said. Abhuani contextualized the historic development of gentrification with artists and the North American economic shift over the last century from industrial labour services to cultural forms of production.

“People thought: ‘I really need to be around the people I’m like’ … and ‘I need to be close to places where culture is produced,’” Abhuani said. He explained that this economic shift prompted those with sufficient financial means to migrate to urban centres. These ongoing demographic migrations, from a capitalist-marketing standpoint, continue to justify urban development in regions that push people from lower-income brackets out of their homes.

“The people who benefit from these changes and from these large economic forces are the people who have means,” Abhuani said. “And the people who don’t [have financial means] are the ones who end up biting the bullet [and] having to move around.”

In gentrification, the role of artists—in this case, referring to individuals with the social status and capital to make a career from their art—lies in the fact that mass migration to more affordable neighbourhoods creates economic speculation, explained Fred Burrill, a Concordia PhD student who currently works with local non-profit organizations to fight for the right to housing in Place St-Henri.

“[Speculation] is a very intentional, state-driven process of changing the ways that [housing] investment is configured,” Burrill said. Speculation increases the property value in a community, and the demographic shift brought by artists provides local governments with a marketable, discursive framework that justifies their desire for urban development in alleged “up-and-coming” communities.

According to Burrill, the goal of speculation is to “turn the housing market from something that is based on supply and demand to something that is essentially a concrete manifestation of the stock market.” He used Griffintown in Montreal as an example. “[Artists] are all actively part of an ideological apparatus that’s used to justify deregulation.”

Artists often positively frame their contributions to the cultural fabric of a neighbourhood as genuinely representative of that community and reflective of their deep connection to its residents. However, Abhuani said this is a dangerous mentality because artists with social status are able to sell this culturally appropriated art and capitalize on it, while those without esteemed social status cannot. “So, maybe you shouldn’t do that, number one. Number two, why are you [in that neighbourhood]?” asked Abhuani. “You’re not there in a vacuum … You’re not just trying to create. You’re not just trying to survive. You’re trying to get ahead.”

All of the panelists agreed that the presence of artists in low-income neighbourhoods brings systemic gentrification to the community through selective state investment in development projects because cities want to support cultural hubs. Although artists may also be affected by rental increases and have to leave the neighbourhood, Abhuani explained, many of them not only have the social capital to relocate, “but they like doing that; they want to be on the forefront [of living] in certain neighborhoods.”

Inouye shared an observation from when she lived in New Orleans as a tuba player in 2012. “You could really see the mostly white kids from New York or from San Francisco moving in,” she explained. “You could see this hunger that people had to kind of own that beautiful magic that exists in New Orleans, and you could see them really wanting to connect with the community that had been there—the community that had lived through Katrina … You could really see this process unfolding, and it was so similar to colonialism.”

Inouye added that while it isn’t bad to want to connect with a given community, it is necessary to keep in mind how different people occupy the space in that community and how social and physical capital change the way people interact with that space.

Most concerned artists will ask themselves, “What can I do, as an artist, to fight against gentrification?” which, Burrill explained, is the wrong question. Artists and people in general should simply ask what needs to be done, without placing the individual at the epicentre of change. While the panelists agreed that gentrification can be throttled through the acquisition of real estate and income disparity can be bridged by wealth redistribution, concrete plans to combat these systemic issues still aren’t being enacted.

Despite some differences of opinion between the panelists, they all seemed to agree that one of the first steps to combating gentrification is community mobilization. Burrill explained that there tends to be an element of individualism when talking about the housing market and gentrification, with arguments such as encouraging better knowledge of tenant rights to avoid eviction and to fairly rent out living spaces.

“What actually needs to happen is that we need to intervene collectively in the [housing] market,” Burrill said. This would entail the city buying empty lots, removing them from the realm of speculation and reserving them for social housing projects, he explained. That, or artists can literally make their neighbourhoods more ugly, he said as a joke. “Beautification of neighborhoods without collective intervention in the housing market is simply a tool of development.”

Main photo by Alex Hutchins

Categories
Sports

Growing the game and creating a legacy

A roundtable discussion on the evolution of professional women’s hockey

Meg Hewings, the general manager for Les Canadiennes de Montréal, remembers going to watch the 1990 Women’s World Hockey Championship in Ottawa. It was the first-ever women’s world championship. As a young hockey player, Hewings watched Team Canada don their now-famous pink-and-white jerseys for the first time.

“They actually created [those jerseys] because they didn’t know how to sell women’s sports,” Hewings said. “Right from the beginning, there has always been this weird tension about how women’s hockey truly is a part of the national narrative.”

Hewings took part in a panel hosted by Aaron Lakoff, a Concordia media studies graduate, titled “Power Play: A Roundtable on Women, Sports Journalism and Hockey” on Jan. 31. Held at the Feminist Media Studio on the Loyola campus, the panel discussed the growth of women’s hockey, sports journalism and feminism in hockey, among other topics.

“If we want to see the game that we watch reflected in real life, we have to build media that is going to amplify those voices that we want to hear,” Lakoff said.

Hewings was joined on the panel by Robyn Flynn, a reporter and broadcaster for organizations such as TSN 690, CJAD and The Athletic, and Safia Ahmad, a recent Concordia graduate currently working as the media relations manager for Les Canadiennes.

“We don’t get to hear conversations like this very often,” Lakoff said. “It’s rare to hear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘hockey’ together.”

Back in the 80s, when Hewings was growing up playing hockey, she said people couldn’t really understand that she played the sport. “They would say, ‘Oh, like field hockey?’ and I would say, ‘No, hockey on ice, our national [winter] sport.’”

For Hewings, one of the biggest moments in women’s hockey was the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, when women’s hockey was included as an Olympic sport for the very first time, despite women’s hockey having been around as early as 1891.

“No one thought [women’s hockey in the Olympics] would ever happen, and it put the sport on the global stage,” Hewings said. “There was a lot of attention on the game for the first time. As a young student, I was trying to figure out how it was that we have this national sport that women were starting to be a part of, but somehow still not able to fully access it [the way men could].”

The sport has had its troubles growing, but Ahmad knows the momentum for women’s hockey is picking up. “There are more and more fans at the Canadiennes games, which is good to see, and there have been more mainstream media coming to our games,” Ahmad said. “It’s no longer about comparing women’s hockey to men’s hockey, but realizing that these are two different things.”

Flynn said she always hears fans reminisce about the days of the Original Six teams in the National Hockey League (NHL). Now, with the creation of two North American women’s hockey leagues—the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL)—Flynn said we are witnessing that same era in women’s hockey.

“We are creating a legacy,” Hewings added.

Lakoff said he hopes to roll out the podcast version of this panel discussion in the coming months. In the meantime, a video version can be found on Facebook.

Main photo by Alex Hutchins.

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News

Panel discussion tackles religious neutrality law

Panelists suggest more National Assembly gatekeeping, more political involvement panelists suggest

Human rights lawyer Pearl Eliadis was about to leave a panel discussion on Bill 62 organized by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) early because of an obligation when she asked the panel moderator for the microphone one last time.

“When this bill was debated two years ago, where were all you guys?” she asked. Eliadis’s comments came after an attendee asked how protesters of the bill could have been more proactive.

Eliadis—an adjunct professor of McGill University’s faculty of law—answered mostly judicial-related questions in the small Hall building classroom where the CSU invited guests for the panel discussion on Nov. 1.

She sat alongside Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association (CMLA) national board member Sameer Zuberi and policy analyst Idil Issa. The latter, when asked how society should stop being reactionary to controversial legislation, sighed before uttering: “I don’t have the answer.”

Throughout the discussion, but also immediately following her question to the attendees, Eliadis urged the public to thoroughly read and study Bill 62.

Specifically, she pointed out the parts other than the second—and most publicized—section, which state:  “persons receiving services from such personnel members must have their face uncovered.”

The section—named “services with face uncovered”—has been the most controversial part since the bill passed on Oct. 18. Two days after the law passed, multiple people descended on Montreal’s Park Avenue and in the metro system wearing ski masks to protest against the bill.

The panel’s organizers invited Fatima Ahmad, a McGill student who wears the niqab, to share her thoughts on the new bill and talk about her experience wearing the full face veil.

“I feel really used [and] targeted,” Ahmad told the group of mostly students gathered in the room. When Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said the law had passed, Ahmad admitted she “was super shocked.”

Ironically, Eliadis noted, the provincial government launched an inquiry into systemic racism in Quebec in September, just a few weeks before Bill 62 passed. “Right hand and left hand, really,” she said, referring to the disconnect within Quebec’s government.

According to Eliadis, section three of the bill, pertaining to reasonable accommodation, is just as important if not more than the ban on covered faces when using public services.

The lawyer criticized section 11.4 as an example, which states that when an institutional body deals with an accommodation request, it must make sure the request is reasonable “in that it does not impose undue hardship with regard to […] the proper operation of the body.”

“It really is ‘anything goes,’” Eliadis said, referring to the provision’s vagueness.

“Instead of making [accommodation] something that you should be doing in order to ensure that we have inclusion in this country, [the bill] says: ‘Here are all the reasons why you should not accommodate people.’”

More involvement in politics

Zuberi, a former CSU executive who also ran as a councillor under the Projet Montréal banner in 2013, encouraged the panel’s attendees to get involved in the political process.

“[It’s] because people like us are not involved in those conversations that legislations like this actually pass,” Zuberi said.

The CSU—which already motioned to condemn the bill during a special council meeting on Oct. 19—was supported by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) vice president of external affairs, Connor Spencer, and Association pour la voix étudiante au Québec (AVEQ) secretary general Rami Yahia at the panel.

Spencer said the bill should be “called for what it is: racist and sexist”.

“We do need to take a position on this. We’re students, but we’re also members of society,” he added.

“[It’s] not this piece of legislation that’s problematic, it’s the societal conversation that we’re having around this legislation that’s so damaging,” Zuberi argued.

According to Zuberi, company boards of directors and elected bodies in Montreal should also represent the city’s demographic by having the same percentage of visible minorities as in the society itself.

Issa supported Zuberi’s idea, adding that more representation from minority groups at the National Assembly could, at the very least, bring more opposition to legislation like Bill 62.

For Issa, the issue with the bill is more than political: it’s moral. “Use your moral imagination,” she said, “and try to think of what is fundamental to your character, to your beliefs, something that you hold dear, and imagine if it was violated upon every encounter with someone with institutional authority.”

Photo by Sandra Hercegova

Categories
Music

Nile Rodgers speaks to the souls of a million strangers

SXSW hosted a keynote panel with composer Nile Rodgers at the Austin Convention Center

“When I was younger, my jazz guitar teacher, who is the single greatest influence on me—other than Bernard Edwards—asked me one day why I was studying with him. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m studying with you because I want to play at concerts, I want to make records, I want to compose, do big orchestral works and films.’ He said, ‘Really? Is that the only reason why?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Oh that’s no problem, you could easily do that.’ I said, ‘Wow, really? How? And he said, ‘Play better,’” said Nile Rodgers.

Nile Rodgers is a legendary Grammy award-winning composer, producer, arranger and guitarist. He has released numerous hit records over the last four decades. He has greatly influenced popular music—he has over 200 production credits to his name. Rodgers has produced hit records for David Bowie, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Maroon 5, Britney Spears, Sam Smith, Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk, Michael Jackson and many others. He is also the co-founder of CHIC, one of disco’s greatest bands. On March 15, Nile Rodgers held a keynote panel at the Austin Convention Center as part of the SXSW festival.

Singer-songwriter Mobley opened Nile Rodgers keynote panel with an energetic performance. Photo by Sandra Hercegova

The panel began with a performance from experimental pop singer-songwriter Mobley. Originally from Austin, Texas, Mobley opened with an energetic performance. He jumped high up on the stage and as he landed slammed on his drums. His high energy on stage, along with his talent, made for an unforgettable performance. Mobley will no doubt be a big star in the near future.

As Rodgers took to the stage, the press swarmed to the front row to get close-up shots of him. Rodgers began his speech by telling us anecdotes on how he discovered success in the music industry. “They told me that they wanted me to talk to you about discovery. ‘Really,’ I said. Discovery? My whole life has been about discovery,” Rodgers said.The musical legend began performing as a classical musician. “I played in the symphony orchestra at the various schools that I went to,” he said. Rodgers never touched a guitar until he was 15. “But I could read music pretty well,” he said. “This gave me a huge advantage—when I started playing guitar, I was a really good music reader from the jump. That helped in my career because guitar players are notoriously known as bad music readers, even though they are amazing players.”

In the 1970s, Rodgers’ got his first job working for the children’s television show, Sesame Street. “I auditioned—they wanted a kid who could read the music for ‘People in Your Neighborhood,’ and ’Rubber Duck,’” he said. Rodgers read the music charts during the audition and got the gig, which set him off on an immense journey of musical and personal discovery. “The great thing about music is that it’s probably just like the universe. We’re just like planetoids, asteroids, just out there spinning around and we’re bumping into stuff. And as we bump into stuff, our trajectory changes and that’s what happened to me,” Rodgers said.

It was in the early 70s, during his gig on Sesame Street that Rodgers met Bernard Edwards, who was a record producer, bass player, singer-songwriter and a fellow member of CHIC. “Bernard Edwards was amazing. He was such an incredible musician,” Rodgers said. “He had such a fine ear, and I decided that I wanted to go on the journey with him.” Rodgers then formed a band with Bernard Edwards called The Big Apple Band. Both Edwards and Rodgers also worked as back-up musicians for a vocal group called New York City. “We had one hit record called ‘I’m Doin’ Fine Now.’ It did well,” Rodgers said. Eventually, the band became The Jackson Five’s opening act, which solidified Rodgers’ lifelong friendship with Michael Jackson. “We became friends forever,” Rodgers said. “I kept bumping into all these wonderful people, and my life just kept expanding. I found that I wasn’t intimidated by stars. I was comfortable with them, and I had some kind of innate talent for being able to communicate with them,” he said.

Whether Rodgers is in the recording studio, conducting a symphony orchestra or producing music for multiple artists, all he wants to do is help as much as he can. “There’s a certain love that I have for that musician, for that situation, because I think that music is the voice that I speak with,” Rodgers said. “And when I am working for you, I try to help amplify your own voice. I try to help you become better than you were because that’s what my teacher used to always do to me.”

A great musical influence for Rodgers was his jazz tutor who tutored him when he was around 15 years old. “I just idealized this dude. He was incredible, such a great musician. His knowledge of harmony was just amazing—he taught me how to play that way. That’s the essence of my style,” he said.

During the panel, Rodgers told an anecdote about the day he complained to his jazz tutor about having to perform top 40 records during a show. “I’ve got to play these bullshit songs like, ‘sugar, sugar, ohhh honey honey’—it’s all lame stuff,” Rodgers said, recounting what he’d told his tutor. Rodgers said his jazz tutor answered that any song that sells and gets to the top 40, top 20 or top 10 is a great composition. Rodgers then asked him, “how can you call, “Sugar, Sugar” a great composition?” “And he said something that changed my life. He said, ‘Because it speaks to the souls of a million strangers.’” Rodgers said this quote was so profound to him. “I wanted to learn how to speak to the souls of a million strangers—it woke me up to the power of what we call pop music,” he said.

Categories
Student Life

Tech your discrimination elsewhere

Queer Tech MTL hosts a panel on identifying as LGBTQ+ within tech industries

Getting together. Networking. Breaking free from isolation.

This is what Queer Tech MTL is all about. It’s a group that invites people who self-identify as part of the tech and LGBTQ+ communities to gather at monthly events.

The meetings, which started in October 2016, explore elements of the workplace for members of the LGBTQ+ community. They also offer many networking opportunities.

Attendees arrive for the panel. Photo by Elisa Barbier

On Jan. 18, the group gathered at the Keatext office in the Mile-End. Keatext is a text analytics app that helps businesses quickly review customer feedback.

At the meeting, attendees were welcomed with snacks and beverages to hear about “creating the authentic self at work.” Luc Plamondon, who has worked at Keatext for four years now, offered up the space to Queer Tech MTL.

Queer Tech MTL was launched in September 2015 by Naoufel Testaouni, who was soon joined by Jason Behrmann. Testaouni has been working for tech companies on and off over the last five years, and is now a customer experience manager for the data services company, Local Logic. Behrmann completed a PhD at McGill, focusing his research on assessing the social and ethical implications of technologies in healthcare for the LGBTQ+ population. He now works as a communication corporate strategist for FinTech.

Testaouni said the idea for Queer Tech MTL came when he found himself looking for the LGBTQ+ community within tech corporations, but was unable to find anyone. Queer Tech MTL is made up of 400 members who attend events on and off.

“We encourage startups to come, to learn how to promote diversity in their companies,” said Testaouni.

The meeting featured a panel composed of Marie Isabelle Gendron from Pratt and Whitney Canada, Carlos A. Godoy L. from TD Bank and Elodie Palluet from Keyrus Canada. Before starting, Behrmann presented the crowd with statistics on the LGBTQ+ community within the tech world.

“Nearly half of transsexuals do not get promoted, hired or get fired,” said Behrmann. “And, 63 per cent of graduate students go back into the closet when they get a job.”

The panelists discussed their experiences with coming out at work. Gendron said Oct. 7, 2014 was “like a day of resurgence” for her. That was the day she came out as transsexual at her job.

When reminiscing about her experience, she said she remembers it was a shock for her boss, but she was accepting of her nevertheless. It was a big challenge, Gendron said. “Being transsexual is not a choice, but coming out is the choice to live,” she said.

Godoy came out while working for TD Bank. He said TD bank is known for their support of LGBTQ+ clients and employees. “I have it super easy—I am a white French-Canadian, born in Montreal. I am a man mostly interested in men, and I am a banker,” said Godoy. However, he said he has, nonetheless, lived through instances of discrimination in the workplace. He recalled once being called “the drag queen” by one of his former employers.

Testaouni introducing the panelists. Photo by Elisa Barbier

Palluet said she had a more complicated coming-out experience. She has had to resign from two positions because of her boss’ behaviour. Now, however, Palluet said she is at a job where she does not experience discrimination.

The panelists described the tech environment in Montreal as “very friendly” and “young.” However, Katherine Chennel, an aerospace engineer who attended the meeting but is not a member of Queer Tech MTL, told The Concordian she experienced something very different when she came out while working at Bombardier. She said she was coincidentally offered a retirement package soon after coming out as transsexual.

The panelists also discussed measures taken by their corporations to further integrate the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace. Gendron said she has seen Pratt and Whitney take measures to help all employees of the community feel safe, and she has received a lot of support. The company has psychologists to educate people in the workplace and implement anti-discrimination policies.

“I want my employees to be happy at work,” said Godoy, quoting William Edmund Clark, the executive chief of TD. Godoy added that TD sent a controversial and revolutionary memo in the early 90s to all its employees. The memo read, “We know that there are gays and lesbians. Some of you may have a same-sex partner, and we want you to know that your partner is entitled to the same things as another employee’s wife or husband.”

Attendees during the panel. Photo by Elisa Barbier.

Gendron talked about Fondation Émergence, an initiative to educate the public on the LGBTQ+ community and the problems they still face today. The initiative will be presenting a documentary showcasing the LGBTQ+ community within three different companies in two months. Palluet added exposing the problems the community still faces is an important part of the education process.

Godoy, Palluet and Gendron concluded by saying that listening to oneself and being one’s authentic self are the keys to living a happy life.

The next Queer Tech MTL event will be held on Feb.16 at 5605 Ave. de Gaspé, second floor.

Categories
Student Life

Enough with the self-censorship

Béatrice Media and Imago Theatre organize a panel on women and self-censorship

On the mild and rainy evening of Jan. 11, in Montreal’s Centre-Sud neighbourhood, some two or three dozens of people met to talk about women, self-censorship and change.

The event, titled “Women Talk About Self-Censorship,” was organized in partnership with Béatrice Media, an independent media production company, and Imago Theatre, a theatre company whose mandate is equal representation and feminist storytelling.

The conversation, which took place at Café Sfouf, welcomed three panelists and CJLO radio broadcaster Rebecca Munroe as the host. The event was recorded for Béatrice Media’s podcast, Béacast.

Host Rebecca Munroe (far left) and panelists Dominique Pirolo (left), Tracey Steer (center) and Christina Vroom (right).
Photo by Danielle Gasher.

“Helpless.” “Weak.” “Small.” “Unempowered.” The evening’s three strong and successful panelists were asked by the host to remember a time when they felt they censored their words. They had to recount how it made them feel in that moment. Luckily for these women, they now rarely feel helpless, weak, small or unempowered.

“10, 15 years ago, I don’t think you were taught to speak about your opinion, empower yourself,” said one panelist, Dominique Pirolo, about her childhood experiences with speaking up. Today, Pirolo is a talent acquisition specialist for a software company in Montreal. She explained her assertiveness developed over time.

The panelists talked about this self-censorship tendency among women, and where they felt it came from. Panelist Tracey Steer, a self-employed writer whose work has appeared in Today’s Parent and Reader’s Digest, believes a lot of it has to do with women’s need to be people-pleasers. “It’s not always a bad thing. But, it’s not always a good thing,” said Steer. “And it takes a while, I think, to undo—not just being pleasing, and not just trying to keep everyone else around you happy.”

For panelist Christina Vroom, the associate director of university advancement for McGill University’s faculty of dentistry, assertiveness came in her adult life.

“I grew up with two brothers and a mother who was very opinionated,” she said. “She was my hero. I wanted to be like her, but I often felt I couldn’t contribute on the same level. There was a feeling of, ‘I’m going to disappoint.’” Vroom explained she used to feel the need to keep the peace and balance out the big opinions and personalities already present in her household.  Today, Vroom says she has “no problem rocking the boat.”

The panelists addressed the double-standard they feel is present when women demonstrate assertiveness.  

“When I became much more assertive with myself and not shy, a friend of mine said to me, ‘You’ve become very aggressive.’ I said, ‘I think you mean assertive.’ And he said, ‘No, no, aggressive,’” Vroom recounted, as the crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed in disbelief .  “He said to me, ‘I think that’s why you’re single.’ I said, ‘I think that’s why we’re not going to be friends anymore.’”

Steer addressed how people tie the identifier “bitch” to women who are simply demonstrating confidence.  “That’s the thing, you know, because you don’t want to be seen as a bitch. Men are assertive and women are bitchy,” said Steer.

Béatrice Media co-founder, Adriana Palanca.
Photo by Danielle Gasher.

In the “talk-back” period of the discussion, the period when the podcast stopped recording and the discussion opened to the audience, a larger conversation about action and change took place. Audience members brought into question larger societal problems, such as the patriarchy organization in North America and gender inequality in the workplace. Together, the audience, panelists, host and Béatrice Media co-founder, Adriana Palanca, brainstormed ideas for promoting change and being the change. “It can start with education and really teaching younger people about it. And empowering young girls. And teaching men that it’s okay that women have a voice,” said Munroe.

Pirolo, who hires people as a large part of her job, had some advice for women seeking employment. “I noticed that when I’m hiring and interviewing individuals, and I interview men and I interview women, the women are not selling themselves the way they should,” said Pirolo.

According to a 2012 study conducted by Brigham Young University and Princeton University researchers, men dominate conversations during business meetings. The study found women only spoke 25 per cent of the time in meetings, with men speaking 75 per cent of the time. According to research conducted in 2013 by a data tool called Twee-Q, women make up 62 per cent of Twitter users.  However, Twee-Q’s stats found that men are retweeted almost twice as often as women, with almost 63 per cent of all retweets belonging to men.

Palanca said she and Mireille St-Pierre founded Béatrice Media to reinforce feminism in media organizations and to start conversations about women, equality, social progress and empowerment.

“[Béatrice Media’s] version of feminism, at its most basic, is: ‘I want to be able to do what a dude does and not get judged for it.’ That’s it, right? And, for us, we weren’t seeing that reflected in a lot of the media that we saw around us. And we said, ‘This is what we feel, this is what we want to see reflected,’” Palanca told The Concordian.

Palanca said she was happy with how the evening unfolded and looks forward to doing similar events in the future. She described the talk as a test-run. For Palanca, good, progressive conversation is about “cutting through the judgement, cutting through the habitual behaviour, cutting through the bullshit.”

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