Going beyond land acknowledgements

Five years after the publication of Concordia’s Indigenous Directions Action Plan, has our university really changed?

When Alicia Ibarra-Lemay, a Kanienʼkehá:ka and Chilean student who grew up near Kahnawà:ke, started at Concordia in 2018, she lost no time finding a community in her new university. Her sister, who started at Concordia before her, had prepped her: go to the Otsenhákta Student Center, talk to student advisors, and sign up for activities. 

In her First Peoples Studies (FPST) courses, she was happy to see Indigenous professors and staff. She remembers being excited to see similar representation in other courses outside her program. “It definitely wasn’t like that though,” she said.

With her minor in education, Ibarra-Lemay immediately felt a difference between her two programs. She explained that there was very little inclusion of Indigenous knowledges in her education classes, and she felt uncomfortable pointing this out. “I don’t want to raise my hand in case they call me out and then make me have to be the Indigenous representative,” she said. 

Ibarra-Lemay is not the only Indigenous student to feel this dichotomy within Concordia. Since the publication of the Indigenous Directions Action Plan in 2019, Indigenous faculty, staff, and students have been working hard to decolonize the university and make it a safer place for Indigenous students.

“Obviously some of this work is really long term,” said Manon Tremblay, Senior Director of Concordia’s Office of Indigenous Directions (OID) and Plains Cree from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. “It’s frustrating to us that things don’t move faster. We are facing systemic barriers in Canada’s post-secondary institutions, and they’re really hard to break down.”

Ibarra-Lemay is now a master’s student in the Individualized Program, a self-directed program in which students can stretch the limits of research practices. According to her, a lot of Indigenous students choose this program because it allows them to incorporate their community’s knowledge and ways in their studies. Ibarra-Lemay decided to take her research about storytelling and oral knowledges out of the classroom.

“When I’m presenting my thesis to my committee, I’m inviting them to my totà’s [grandma’s] home, around a fire and cooking them food,” she said. Her goal is to share the culture of oral storytelling, reciprocity, and the passing down of knowledge.

Despite this openness from her committee members, Ibarra-Lemay said she had to jump through a lot more hoops to get her methodology approved than other students. The inclusion of oral tradition in writing-based research settings was especially hard.

“Students are doing really creative things through the proposals, in the way that they present their thesis,” she said. “This is thanks to their committee members, their faculty that are helping do this, but not the program itself.”

Undoing expectations

When it came to integrating culture to university work, these challenges were not only felt by Ibarra-Lemay. Jared Gull, a Cree student from Waswanipi, was studying film at Concordia until recently. “I came [to Concordia] because it was the dream,” he said. “Then I got here, and it’s not what I imagined.”

Gull expected Concordia to be very inclusive, and while he praised the services offered by the Otsenhákta Student Center, his experience in his classes was very different. 

He recalled questions from his classmates about which race he was, and the discomfort of land acknowledgements, during which students and professors often looked straight at him. “I’m just sitting there thinking, I feel like I had caused this just by walking into the room,” he said.

“It kind of feels like I just existed as a person without any identity,” he said. “And I usually just try to take it on the chin and roll with the punches, crack a joke. But at some point, it just wears you down.”

Gull also got a lot of pushback when trying to make movies that showcased his culture and were entertaining. “The Cree don’t have those kinds of movies,” he said. “Everything is so documentary-focused. So when I go to make these movies, people are expecting me to be this depressed Native with all these stories about residential schools.”

He found his classmates and professors tried to politicize his stories in a way that he didn’t want them to be, and their feedback often made him uncomfortable. “People didn’t really see what I was doing. I had a teacher even say: ‘Oh, this is not the kind of Natives that I see on CBC,’” he recalled. “Sometimes, it just felt like I was talking to a wall, or I had to play to people’s expectations to be heard.”

Creating change 

Tremblay said she hears about these behaviours from professors and students far too often. “Ignorant comments, presenting things only from a Eurocentric perspective, situations where Indigenous contributions to the classroom are treated as if they’re inferior… We see this all the time,” she said.

This is not to say that nobody at Concordia is working towards change: the OID and other groups have put many measures in place to decolonize Concordia, such as the Indigenous learning series Pîkiskwêtân, or the recently-announced plan to decolonize the university’s curriculum. But change is slow to be felt throughout the university. 

“We have to start from somewhere,” said Allan Vicaire, Senior Advisor of the OID and Mi’kmaq from Listuguj. “[Concordia] is an institution that is colonial and in order to decolonize, it’s going to take another 50 years, right?”

The difficulties of changing an institution like Concordia are woven even in something as simple as its furniture. Catherine Richardson Kineweskwêw, director of the FPST program and member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia with Cree and Gwichʼin ancestry, shared that she often struggles to find a classroom where the desks are not nailed to the floor and can be moved into a circle, an important part of Indigenous pedagogy. 

“Circle teaching is paramount, and it has important implications such as the equality of the participants, the demand for respect, dignity, and collective care,” she said. “This Western worldview that you would sit in an amphitheater, and you look at the back of the head of the person in front of you, it doesn’t promote relationship building, or even care.”

Vicaire also emphasized the importance of visibility of Indigenous peoples on campus, something he said students have been asking for for a long time. “The symbolic things actually do matter,” he said. “But it can’t be just one area,” he added. “I’m hoping [such symbolic actions] will influence other ways of thinking of other art projects or other renovations that will include more indigeneity into the actual project.”

Cheyenne Henry, Manager of the Otsenhákta Student Centre and Anishinaabe from Roseau River First Nation, sees these projects as an opportunity to expand the services offered to Indigenous students. “That’s always great to have that representation, that recognition that we’re on Indigenous land,” she said. “Having those spaces, that’s important. And what we do in those spaces is also going to be important.”

One of the visibility actions outlined by the Action Plan is the land acknowledgements, which are becoming more and more common, but are not unanimously appreciated. “I find them kind of insulting,” Gull said, “just in that the acknowledgement is that the land has already been taken and they’re giving thanks for taking land.”

According to Tremblay, it is important to really take time to understand what the acknowledgement is about. “[People] read it and they can’t pronounce the words, they read it in a way that is very stilted,” she said. “It just has no meaning. It feels as if, okay, let’s get this stuff out of the way before we get down to the real business. So for me, if you’re not going to put your heart into it, then just don’t do it.”

Ibarra-Lemay pointed out that most of the actions to decolonize Concordia were led by Indigenous students, faculty and staff, which has led to burnout in the community. “We need to be the ones leading it, but we still need the support of non-Indigenous people to be able to do this,” she said.

Tremblay argued that more allyship would speed up the process of making Concordia a place of belonging for Indigenous students. “Although my office is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Action Plan, it is not our responsibility to implement every recommendation,” she explained. “The whole university has to put their back into it. It is the affair of everybody in this university: faculty, staff, and students.”

Arts Exhibit

Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real: Examining digital culture, social media, and the meme-sphere

Concordia students and alumni adopt internet aesthetics to explore the human experience in the digital age in new exhibition

On Feb. 17, artists Edson Niebla Rogil and Dayana Matasheva hosted the vernissage for their exhibition Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real out of their shared Plateau studio.

The show featured 12 artists, including Niebla Rogil and Matasheva, whose works address the effects of the internet on the human experience through mediums ranging from AI-generated audio to livestreaming-inspired video compilations.

For Matasheva, who graduated from film production in 2020, the internet represents an aesthetic endeavour. “I think aesthetically, no one is using the visual vernacular of the internet. We are interested in its aesthetics specifically, rather than just its subject matter.”

After noticing a lack of representation of internet subject matter within traditional gallery spaces, Niebla Rogil and Matasheva issued an open call for like-minded artists.

“There’s a really big focus on technology as a medium, but there’s very little about the cultures that are growing online and changing the landscape of how people interact with each other,” said Concordia intermedia major Liz Waterman, whose sensorial TikTok-inspired video projection Doom Scroll was featured in the exhibition.

“I think that it’s shaping culture and psychology in a way that’s really interesting, and we don’t see enough work about it.”

Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real is the first exhibition organized, hosted, and curated by Niebla Rogil and Matasheva, but the pair have ambitions to move future exhibitions out of their studio into larger spaces, and to continue to host their networking event The Net Worker.

“It’s a recurring event where people shamelessly network and there’s no other purpose to it,” explains Matasheva. “People come together, exchange DIY business cards, they wear business attire and everything. It’s a little bit performative, but it actually is serving a purpose for artists.”

Information about upcoming exhibitions, networking events and more can be found on Niebla Rogil and Matasheva’s Instagram profiles.


Sia’s new movie is dangerous and offensive

Why activists are calling Sia’s Music ableist

Australian vocal powerhouse Sia’s directorial debut Music has finally been released, despite the fact that many wish it hadn’t.

The film stars Kate Hudson as Zu, a newly sober drug dealer who becomes the guardian for her autistic half-sister, Music (Maddie Ziegler). Over the course of the film, Zu learns to take care of Music with the help of Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.), and musical sequences take place inside Music’s mind showing how she sees the world.

On the surface, the film might look like the perfect recipe for positivity, great musical sequences, and representation. After all, the autism community is typically portrayed in only one way: a savant white man who is awkward with women (Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor). Sia also called the film “A love letter to caregivers and to the autism community,” and claimed she spent three years researching for the film. And yet Music, and Sia, are still being called out for ableism.

The most obvious issue with the film is the casting. In case you were unaware, Maddie Ziegler is not autistic. Ziegler and Sia first collaborated in 2014 for the singer’s viral “Chandelier” music video and Ziegler went on to star in eight other Sia music videos, tour with the singer, and perform with her on shows like SNL, Ellen, and The Tonight Show.

Despite this longtime collaboration, Sia said, “I actually tried working with a beautiful young girl [who was] non-verbal, on the spectrum, and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie … Casting someone at [the character’s] level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community. … I did try. It felt more compassionate to use Maddie.”

In a video about the film, Paige Layle, a young autistic woman who has over two million followers on TikTok said, “What Sia should be promoting is accommodating autistic people,” and, “If you’re saying that anyone can act autistic, it’s just acting … you need to recognize your own ableism there, and why you think that autistics are not good enough at being autistic on their own, that they need to fit your level of what autism looks like and they need to perform to what you know.”

Ziegler’s performance has also been called a caricature of autistic body language. One Twitter user explained that:

“It is deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms non-autistic people often employ when bullying autistic and developmentally disabled people for the ways we move. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ways autistic people move, or the ways we make facial expressions. Some of us roll our eyes and put our teeth over our lips as a stim or just because it’s comfortable. But we do those things naturally. Maddie Ziegler does not. The fact thneoat Ziegler is not autistic, and the fact that her performance is so heavily exaggerated, turns the entire movie into one long display of mockery.”

On the first day of filming, Ziegler, who was 14 at the time, reportedly cried, worried that people would think she was making fun of them, to which Sia promised her, “I won’t let that happen.” 

The film has also been criticized for using the character of Music as a prop. David Fear for Rolling Stone called it “a sort of neurodivergent equivalent of a Magical Negro.” While doing press for the film, an interviewer even compared the non-verbal Music to an inanimate object, to which Sia agreed.

“There is a caricature of autistics which relies on depicting us as headphone-wearing, gaping innocents who are symbols of purity there to remind us of selfless sacrifice,” said autistic teen Niko Boskovic in an essay.

The other massive issue raised by activists has been a scene in the film that shows Music being forcibly restrained by Zu and Ebo who “crush her with their love.”

“[Music] doesn’t just promote harmful stereotypes about autistic people — it shows restraints that have killed members of our community as necessary and loving acts,” said Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

In response, Sia promised that the film would add a warning ahead of the movie, and that future printings would remove the scene. She also clarified that the film does not condone or recommend the use of restraint on autistic people. Online however, people say that the scenes have not been removed and there is still no warning.

The film’s musical sequences also use strobing lights, bright colours, loud sounds, and quick camera movements, which are very overstimulating. As one online petition points out, “About one in four autistic people have epilepsy, so the movie can cause seizures and is also very uncomfortable for those without it. Despite making the movie ‘for’ autistic people, Sia has made it in such a way that a majority of us will be unable to watch it.”

Sia has not responded very well to her critics, personally attacking a few before deleting her Twitter account. When one autistic actor expressed their ability and willingness to act in the film Sia replied, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

The singer also said, “I cast 13 neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

For the film, Sia also collaborated, to an extent, with Autism Speaks, an organisation that has been called “A eugenics-promoting hate group.” Over 60 disability rights organisations have condemned Autism Speaks. Sia could have learned that by simply looking at their Wikipedia page and yet she said, “I had no idea it was such a polarizing group!”

The singer also referred to Music as someone with “special abilities,” language generally found to be extremely patronizing and derogatory in these contexts. Sia’s resistance to the term disabled, which has been widely embraced by many autistic people, has also been called ableist because it implies that being disabled is a bad thing.

Sia eventually admitted to being ableist to a degree and said she’d learned her lesson, but also said, “I have my own unique view of the community, and felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a shit I’m a shit, but my intentions are awesome.”

Later, however, she said, “I realised it wasn’t ableism — I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it’s actually nepotism, because I can’t do a project without [Ziegler].”

Despite Sia’s seemingly good intentions and some supporters, Music remains at best problematic, and at its worst dangerous. Its nomination for two Golden Globe awards is both confusing and concerning. A petition for the Golden Globes to rescind the nominations currently has over 120,000 signatures.

In her video, Layle claims, “This was not for autistics. This is for caregivers, to feel like some inspiration porn, saviour complex.”

For full disclosure, I haven’t seen the film. The film’s reviews, messages from disability organisations, and videos and tweets made by autistic people have almost universally shared the same message: don’t watch this movie. It’s bad, offensive and dangerous. So I did not feel the need to waste $6 and two hours to confirm. Instead, I think I’ll look at the work of actual disabled creatives and I’d recommend you do the same.


Concordia’s Black Perspectives Office strives to empower Black voices and aspirations at the university

The office offers mentorship, scholarship, and wide-range supportive opportunities for Black students

Having started off as a pilot project, Concordia’s Black Perspectives Office proved a success in 2019 and was permanently installed as an advocacy and support office for Black students at Concordia.

Three-time Concordia graduate, Montreal Black activist and author Annick Maugile Flavien is the founding coordinator at the office, which aims to address and challenge systemic racism by representing, connecting, and supporting Black perspectives.

“Our students, our faculty, our staff need spaces to connect with one another,” said Flavien during an interview with Concordia alumni Josie Fomé, Montreal journalist and podcast host featured in Concordia’s 4TH SPACE in December.

In this space, Black students can freely express themselves. Flavien said, “We can kind of talk about their actual issues, or like what they really want to talk about, because they don’t have to check their Blackness at the door.”

Advocacy, funding Black student projects and education, and creating new resources for Black students is part of the work done in the office. All scholarships and funds, which range from $300–$2,500, include consistent mentorship with Flavien to help students fulfill their goals.

Last year, the office began plans to build the Black Mental Wellness on Campus project: a new bilingual mental wellness website, which will include different year-long programs on wellness education, such as skillshares, workshops, and events.

The website says the project will integrate and work with practitioners and individuals “who are dedicated to anti-racist and holistic mental wellness.”

This term, the focus will be towards creating a mentorship program with Concordia alumni, and improving mental health services, by hiring from the Black community into the university and helping students find the resources they need.

Like everything else, the BPO services have moved online, and while that has presented many challenges, Flavien said students are working on innovative new ideas for Black initiatives.

 “It’s been really exciting because students have a lot of energy and want to engage and are coming in with their ideas,” said Flavien.

One of these new projects was Concordia’s Black Student Union (BSU), which began at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester.

Historically, Black student unions began as a way to fight racism and discrimination on campus in the 1960s. Concordia’s BSU aims to continue that legacy, along with celebrating Black excellence, and supporting Black voices and initiatives on campus.

Flavien’s vision for the office is similar to the decades-old practices of BSU: to create a culture and system similar to Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States.

“It was just about creating a space in which I could be myself, and I could meet people from my community; I could collaborate with them, I can innovate with them,” said Flavien.

“I think that long term vision, I see the BPO being a theoretical as well as a physical manifestation of that dream.”


Screenshot of the Black Perspectives Website


There’s an elephant in the newsroom, and here’s what we can do about it

Canadian Media has a problem with the representation of minority groups

According to Brent Cunningham in Re-thinking Objectivity, “[the] understanding of ‘the other’ has always been – and will always be – a central challenge of journalism.”

The media in Canada at large creates a world of reductive, selective or idealized images of “the other” that misrepresent them by using the experiences of a few people and allowing them to speak for a whole group.

Also, the rhetoric used in Canadian media often makes distinctions between majority and minority groups by establishing a sense of ‘us and them,’ which makes minority groups largely invisible and communicates the message that they are not full participants in Canadian society.

While newsrooms need to invest more time and effort in digging deeper and understanding these minority groups’ issues, most media producers are doing the opposite: content production  choices are mainly made by journalists who come from the same majority-group of the Canadian population. At the same time, most media producers rarely make the effort to change  their hiring processes or news story choices. And the outcomes of this state of denial are  catastrophic.

Hal Niedzvieki wrote in his controversial The cultural appropriation prize editorial – where he denied that cultural appropriation exists – that writers need to break the ‘write what you know rule’ by writing about people who live beyond their own worlds.

While I appreciate Niedzvieki’s creative endeavour to represent other worlds that exist alongside that of white middle class people, I think Indigenous and racialized writers have more competent authority by way of their lived experiences to write about their own culture and community.

Across television and radio platforms in Quebec, experiences of marginalized communities are whittled down not even to trauma or fables of defying the odds, but rather worse, to delusional thinking. “What systemic racism?” cried La Joute’s hosts Luc Lavoie, Paul Larocque and Bernard Drainville as a comment on the Quebec government’s final release of a consultation about systemic racism in September. The rhetorical question makes light of what members of minority groups go through in Quebec and treats it as something that has never existed.

What adds insult to injury is the fact that Canadian media is anything but diverse. A 2010 survey by the Ryerson DiverseCity Counts project found that members of visible minority groups were vastly underrepresented in newsrooms, where they held only 3.2% of decision-making positions in print media in Toronto.

In 2016, a survey by Canadaland showed that 90% of CBC’s staff were white. Another questionnaire was conducted by CBC/Radio-Canada in April 2018. It collected race and identity based data from its employees who participated voluntarily. The questionnaire showed that 15.4% of CBC staff were from visible minorities, only one percent more than the year before.

There is a tendency to not be open about sharing race-based demographics of the people working in these newsrooms.  Another Ryerson study analyzed over twenty years of columns in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and the National Post to gather data about the demographics of all journalists who worked there.

It was quite a challenge to get this information – newsroom management in Canada admitted that they do not collect race-based data on newsroom staff. Likewise, mainstream Canadian media outlets often refrain from responding to surveys of the same nature, and hardly react to any calls to action.

Without this data, how can we approach who is telling these stories? Getting a clearer picture in this regard can go a long way in solving this dilemma.

In his Re-thinking Objectivity, Cunningham also comments on how reporters tend to lean more on “existing narratives because they are safe and easy.” This is where the danger lies.

In her Ted Talk The Danger of a Single Story, Nigerian storyteller Chimamanda Ngozi said “show a people as one thing over and over again, and that is what they become.”

Hence, relying on existing popular media narratives about minority groups will take us back to square one: inferiorizing and excluding  “the other,” simply because they are consistently told  through the lens of a detached, misinformed narrator.

And then we find ourselves entangled in a vicious circle: first the media others its minority citizens by sticking with one representation of them; next, the idea becomes a culture; then, hiring practices start to embrace that culture; after that, newsrooms lacking in diversity  tell the same “us versus them” single stories. And so on.

Overlooking the importance of a diverse Canadian media reveals a troubling double standard, and a gap between what it preaches and what it practices.

A big part of solving a problem lies in acknowledging that there is one.

Newsrooms are still refusing  to take part in surveys that investigate media diversity: mainstream newspapers are not reacting to calls for action such as the one raised by the Canadian Journalists of Colour (CJC), white talk show hosts are discussing systemic racism without seeing the need to invite a racialized guest and many white writers still find themselves entitled to rob the voices of others in pursuit of creative genius and literary recognition.

Sadly, more journalists of color are just leaving the newsroom and the whole industry behind, as in the case of Sunny Dhillon, a Globe and Mail reporter who quit because of a disagreement about a story that involved race.

Activists have already done the research and the data is revealed: there is a problem, and it should no longer be overlooked. The gap between the theories of journalism and the practices of newsrooms should not exist.

We clearly need more interactive multi-dimensional reporting methods and less one-way flow reports told by certain gatekeepers or power structures.

Change needs to be top-down: news managers, producers and leaders should take action. Newsrooms should self-report diversity statistics on a regular basis in the interest of transparency and equal opportunity employment. Representation needs to be increased in Canadian media, with more training and mentoring for novice journalists. 

In a nutshell, the work of diversity and inclusion in Canadian media should start from its newsrooms. 


Graphic by @sundaeghost


The movie Tall Girl reviewed by a tall girl

Netflix just came out with a movie called Tall Girl. Guess what it’s about?

Sixteen-year-old, six foot one, “misunderstood” student Jodi is trying to get through high school, despite intense bullying due to her height. The movie wasn’t that good, but that’s not why I’m here.

For context, I’m six feet tall.

Life has consisted of my parents explaining that I really was five years old, despite being almost a foot and a half taller than my peers. I was the tallest in my class until high school, and – you guessed it – I did play volleyball and basketball. Being tall is the biggest and most obvious part of my physical identity. Quite like the movie depicts with Jodi, my height is usually the first thing someone notices about me.

If you’re a tall girl, then you know exactly what I mean. Growing up in a society where women are taught to take up less space, be “dainty” and “cute,” can be difficult when you are basically making out with your knees on every bus, train, or airplane.

Just like Jodi, I used to want to shrink. Actually, a lot of the thoughts and worries she had, I had too. The movie displayed a lot of truths about the experience of tall women, but one thing it very obviously lacked was perspective.

Jodi fits every societal beauty norm. She is straight, lean, white and cis-gender. I guarantee that if this were real life, Jodi would not be bullied or ostracized to feel like an other as she was in this movie. It placed Jodi into a narrative of systemic discrimination, and that’s the problem.

Jodi is not a minority. She’s not even an outcast. She’s a privileged young woman that wants to fit in with her peers – quite like I did. Listen, I get it. I still have trouble feeling confident with my height. Some days I feel like it’s truly all people can see. However, framing Jodi this way is not only inaccurate, but it causes distortion and misunderstanding regarding a larger problem of prejudice.

So, to be clear, I am talking about two very different things. The first thing is my experience with my physical identity and the reality of existing in the world with a larger body. I can speak to this experience being difficult and frustrating. I can speak to being teased, feeling undesirable, and wanting so badly to fit in. The second thing, nonetheless, is very different; and the distinction here is crucial. What Jodi and I cannot directly relate to is being marginalized. This movie blurs that line. It places tall white women into a discussion that we should not lead.

Look, I would love to see more tall women with leading roles on television. Watching someone I can identify with physically on screen makes me feel empowered. This, on some level, speaks to the power of representation. This being said, I think it’s pertinent to note that as a white woman, I am constantly being represented, be it on television, movies, magazines, etc. This representation allows white women to have a range of emotions, personalities, characteristics, and nuances that people of colour, and other marginalized groups lack in film. This movie placed Jodi in a specific box and chalked it up to her height, when in reality, Jodi would not have been consistently influenced by this stigma.

Teen movies and romantic comedies have an impact on how we view the world, especially for women. If Netflix really wanted to make a movie with a tall girl in it, I would have been thrilled, along with 15-year-old me. But by framing it as a negative part of her personality, and not letting her just exist as a tall girl with normal problems, relationships and interactions, it really failed for me.

Instead, they created an oversimplified and erroneous depiction of an issue that is not systemic and is more to do with having trouble finding size 13 women’s shoes.


Photo Source: Netflix


How drug use and addiction is covered by media

When I was a kid, I was told not to do drugs and the conversation ended there. If the “war on drugs” has taught us anything, it is that eliminating all drugs and forcing drug use into a specific box is both impossible and a drastic oversimplification. The rhetoric surrounding drug use currently leads to an unproductive and isolating conversation – a conversation missing one key player: drug users.

As reporters, storytellers and the ‘watchdogs of society’ we have failed time and time again at reporting on drug use. We reach out to medical professionals and policymakers, but there is a hole in this story. We wouldn’t report on someone’s art without reaching out to the artist or cover a house fire without speaking with homeowners, so why do we report on drugs without going to the source?

Harm Reduction Practitioner, Coordinator, Researcher and drug user, with the pseudonym A.C. Abbot, explains how media is missing the mark.

“The media basically doesn’t think of drug users as having opinions or expertise,” Abbot told The Concordian. They explained that we exist in a society where drug users are seen as “crazy” and “out of control.”

“The fact that drug users are denied authority and legitimacy when literally writing about drug use and drug users is telling,” added Abbot.

Journalists are feeding the biased narrative that authorities have painted for us. The media needs to approach the drug topic in a way that depicts the misconceptions of drug laws.

“Our system of drug laws is not based on scientific information about drugs,” Maia Szalavitz said, a writer from The Columbia Journalism Review. Jay Levy, the Deputy Director of the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD), explained that drug users are still being criminalized, without evidence that this attitude is in any way a productive one. Levy added that even though there are risks when using drugs, the main harm comes from laws and policies.
The judicial system, “along with their justificatory social construction and stigmas,” he continued, “are responsible for driving and worsening many of these avoidable harms.”

Portugal is often used as an example when talking about drug use and policy. The government decriminalised all drugs in 2001 and, according to the Guardian, “HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015.”

Although the change in law ignited a more productive conversation, it did not exist in a vacuum. Susana Ferreira, a Portuguese-Canadian freelance writer, explained that this recovery was more complex than just a change in the law.

“In many ways, the law was merely a reflection of transformations that are already happening in clinics, in pharmacies and around the kitchen tables across the country,” Ferreira wrote in a Guardian article in 2017.

A.C. Abbot thinks Portugal needs to go farther.

“It’s better to be stuck in a doctor’s office than to be stuck in a jail cell,” said Abbot, but then also explained that it’s important to be aware of the imperfect nature of medical care. Abbot said we must recognize that this environment can be a controlling one and does not always advocate for people’s autonomy. “The barriers are not only everywhere and holistic, but interweave and pulse with every other kind of prejudice.”

Although the world should be looking to Portugal in terms of drug laws, it’s crucial to continue to investigate the complexity of the situation.

“The questions aren’t just to transition from criminalization to medicalization, but it is to transition from stigmatization and problematization to autonomy,” said Abbot.

As a product of our society, I am guilty of stigmatizing drug users and drug addicts. I need to continue to push back against this stigma. This conversation leads to dehumanization and unfair treatment surrounding drug users and addicts. We must stop absorbing information at face value and learn more about the ethical discrepancies of the law. We must lean in and listen to harm reduction experts, drug users and others who are actively involved and affected by the drug stigma. We must let them lead the conversation.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Student Life

Ashura beyond the screen

Teaching selflessness with the story of Husayn (a.s) and Ahl al-Bayt

One of the things I remember most about growing up in an Islamic school was the Ashura sermons given at the local Mosque in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. Men and women would listen to the story of the Muharram for ten days, every year. I was about ten years old when I went up to listen to the sermons instead of staying downstairs with the other children. My Arabic wasn’t very strong, so a friend translated to English the whole time.
That was the first time I cried over Imam Husayn (a.s) and Ahl al-Bayt, the family of the prophet. To this day, the Shia community, along with some Sunnis and Sophists, remember the death of Husayn (a.s) and the lessons of those ten days by mourning the tragic events. The Mourning of Muharram, a ten-day period, begins in the first month of the Islamic Calendar and varies in length depending on the lunar calendar.
For years, media outlets have horribly portrayed Ashura. What’s mostly shared in news coverage is self-flagellation, which was historically done so people could feel the smallest bit of Husayn’s pain and suffering. The Muslim community doesn’t condone this practice anymore; it is completely prohibited. However, all attempts at getting the meaning behind Ashura across and sharing the full story of Husayn (a.s) and his family have been distorted or called out for biased representation.
I am not particularly religious and, in all honesty, it took some time to stop hating those ten days because the violence that was propagated, at times, was difficult to look past. It is not a true and honest representation of Ashura.

“[Ashura] makes you read history through eyes of humanity,” said Sheikh Ali Sbeiti, head sheikh in the Centre Communautaire Musulman de Montréal (CCMM).
In the year 61 of Al-Hijra of the Lunar Islamic Calendar, AD 680, the Battle of Muharram took place in Karbala, Iraq. This battle was between a small group of supporters and the family of the prophet Muhammad—mainly followers of his grandson, Husayn ibn Ali—and a separated larger military group led by Yazid I, leader of the Umayyad Caliphate. This battle lasted one day, and is called the 10th of Muharram, or Ashura.
In the days leading up to this, Husayn (a.s)’s camp was surrounded, and Yazid’s military had blocked their access to the Euphrates, leaving the men, women and children without water for ten days. Husayn (a.s)’s six-month-old son was killed while he held him.
The night of the 9th day, Husayn (a.s) told his men they had the choice to leave in the darkness of the night rather than face certain death the next morning, when battle came. None of them left. Husayn Ibn Ali’s companions consisted of 32 horsemen and 40 infantrymen. The battle was over by the afternoon, with Husayn (a.s) left alone between enemies. He was executed in prayer.
The Umayyad then took the heads of the dead, and the women and children as prisoners in their walk from Karbala to Damascus. They were held hostage for a year, many dying of the conditions and of grief. Sukayna bint Husayn, Husayn (a.s)’s daughter, was one of the first to die of grief after she saw her father’s severed head.
A lot of people wonder why, 1,400 years later, Ahl al-Bayt are still mourned. Sheikh Ali Sbeiti recalled a saying from the prophet: “If you want to thank me, show respect and love for my family.” From a religious perspective, it’s as simple as that: you remember to keep the respect and love for the family of the prophet alive today.
My ten-year-old self didn’t know what Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jew, or whatever, meant. All I knew was that there was a family that was hated—oppressed because of different beliefs and views—and the leader of that family had stayed to fight that oppression. That alone should be reason enough for this story to be relevant today. We continue to fight many types of oppression such as ethnic, gender, geographical, and more.
“Such personalities don’t belong to Shia’s only,” said Sheikh Ali. “They belong to human value.”
This past Muharram, a woman on Twitter complained about a picture that depicted a child dressed in black wearing a headband that said ‘Husayn’. “Child abuse,” she tweeted. “For the sake of proving a sectarian point. Of course there will be extremism if from this age you throw at them extreme sectarianism.” As long as the story of Husayn (a.s) and his family is told in a considerate and calm way, there is nothing abusive about teaching children this story. The CCMM, for example, shares this story without the gruesome details.
Husayn (a.s)’s brother, Abbas Ibn Ali, went into enemy territory to bring back water to the camp because Husayn (a.s)’s daughter was thirsty. He did not drink any water in solidarity with his family, despite being parched. Those details are what should be taught to children: sacrifice, compassion and selflessness.
Chams Jaber, head organizer of the CCMM, said the centre focuses on activities that are engaging and educational to share the lessons of Husayn (a.s). “We learn about patience, and having no fear against oppression,” said Jaber. They hold activities such as the recreation of the battle as an art piece, where all the kids add to it while being told the story, she explained.
There are traits that historical figures pass along, and sometimes they happen to be timeless. Husayn’s teachings are relevant today, and Ashura is meant to honour that. There really isn’t much else people need to take from this.

Writer’s note: the (a.s) after Husayn (a.s) means ‘peace be upon him’ and is a gesture of respect.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda


In the run for the ASFA presidency

Candidate advocates for sustainability, LGBTQ+ representation and mental health resources

Following interim ASFA president Julia Sutera Sardo’s announcement that she will not be running for re-election, Concordia student Jonathan Roy has stepped into the spotlight.

As VP internal and councillor of the Concordia Classics Student Association (CCSA), VP of finance of NDP Concordia and member of the Concordia Senate, Roy is heavily involved in student politics at Concordia. On Monday, Nov. 13, he announced his candidacy for the ASFA presidency.

His posters, plastered on the university’s walls, feature his campaign slogan: “Empowered together.”

“You can’t just leave the decisions of an organization to a single individual. They need to be worked through by a collective,” Roy said. “I’m doing this because I want to support the rest of the executives. I want to support all of our associations. I want to support our students. This isn’t about me.”

This sentiment is echoed in his platform of empowering the member associations (MAs) and ASFA executives to fulfill their mandates. Roy has proposed moving away from the traditional, hierarchical order of the executive.

“Yes, I’m running for the presidency but, in my mind, the spirit of that office is that of a general coordinator,” Roy said.

Roy’s other campaign promises include making ASFA more sustainable, increasing LGBTQ+ representation in student governments and a complete collaboration with Concordia’s mental health services.

In terms of environmental sustainability, Roy plans to put a compost bin in every MA lounge, if elected, and plans to continue his work with Waste Not Want Not, Concordia’s composting campaign.

As a gay man, Roy said he is all too familiar with the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in politics—especially in Concordia’s student associations. He said he plans to take concrete steps toward solving this issue.

“I want to propose setting a specific spot on ASFA’s advocacy committee aside for a representative of Queer Concordia to be a voice on behalf of our community,” Roy said. ASFA’s sustainability committee already holds a designated spot for a representative from Sustainable Concordia, which has been an extremely positive experience, according to Roy.

As for working with Concordia’s mental health services, Roy said this collaboration is deeply important to him. After suffering from severe depression and attempting suicide five years ago, he said helping people through mental illness is especially important to him.

“I was at the lowest point in my life,” Roy said. “I’m always candid about my mental health issues because it’s important to talk about it. That’s how we end the stigma around it.”

Having used the services himself, Roy said he hopes to further relations with the Concordia chapter of—a national mental health network—and ensure Concordia’s psychological services are better advertised, if elected. Roy plans to push for more open dialogue about mental health within the university so students and their academics suffer less.

“People don’t deserve to feel the way that I’ve felt, and I want to try to help them,” Roy said.

ASFA presidential candidate Jad Abi Semaan. Photo courtesy of Jad Abi Semaan

While Roy said he feels confident in his ability to win the election, he is not running unopposed. Jad-Faraj Abi Semaan told The Concordian he is also in the running for the position. Semaan is a political science student at Concordia. He said that, if elected, he plans to strengthen the relationship between ASFA and the MAs by improving communication and establishing a plan of action which will allow MAs to reach their full potential.

“In a world polarized more than ever, […] we need platforms that bring people together,” Semaan said. “I will make it a personal priority to give an equal voice to students from all backgrounds, religious affiliations and ethnicities, such as the LGBTQ+ community, Muslim students and students with disabilities.” Semaan also said he wants to ensure the ASFA community is loving, accepting and respectful.

According to Roy, Semaan has had no previous involvement with ASFA, apart from acting as a polling clerk for the association last year. However, Semaan told The Concordian he would “be more than happy to have a constructive conversation with [Roy] at any point during this campaign and put to bed all his concerns about [his] legitimacy.”

Overall, Roy said his priority throughout the campaign and, if elected, his presidency, will be to empower the student body as a whole.

“The way I see governance, especially student governance, is not about catering to the needs of one person. It’s about coming together to work to help everyone,” Roy said. “That’s something that I’m a huge proponent of and something that would be reflected in the work I would do as president.”

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

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