Campus totalitarians

If you want to see totalitarianism in action, you don’t have to travel overseas to some impoverished, politically backward society wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 10. The face of totalitarianism, the opinion piece stated, is one Kelly Holloway, president of York’s Graduate Students Association [and vice-president of the Student Centre executive]. It was she who pushed for the cancellation of a public debate on abortion, wrote the Citizen. The event had been booked and the flyers printed but it never happened. "This debate, over whether or not women should be able to have an abortion, is not acceptable in the Student Centre," said Holloway.

Not acceptable in the Student Centre? Abortion is among the most controversial issues anywhere, wrote the Citizen. Theologians, ethicists and doctors – not to mention ordinary people – have been wrestling with abortion for many years. The Stalin-esque cancellation of the abortion debate is awfully damaging to York, wrote the Citizen, because it sends a message to young people everywhere that if you are interested in engaging difficult ideas, choose another university.

In related coverage,

  • The Winnipeg Free Press wrote March 8 that it has been years since universities were in any real sense defenders of academic freedom and free speech. Try organizing a fair debate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue; the problems of multiculturalism in Western society; the value of the Judeo-Christian contribution to civilization; or, worst of all, abortion. The debates will almost always be either disrupted or banned.

    The most recent example of this occurred last week at York University when a debate about abortion was cancelled by the student centre where it was to be held, wrote the Free Press. "This debate, over whether or not women should be able to have an abortion, is not acceptable in the Student Centre," according to Kelly Holloway, president of the Graduate Students Association, no less.

    York’s administration called the incident "regrettable" and indeed it is, although not just because the University "encourages civic participation and open debate" when its student organizations permit, wrote the Free Press. It is sad for what it reveals about universities today. At York, apparently, even graduate students are unfamiliar not only with the concepts of free speech and academic freedom but also with contemporary affairs – the Supreme Court never ruled that there could be no laws restricting abortion nor debate about them.

  • The Toronto Star published a letter March 10 from Joseph Schwarz saying the position of Kelly Holloway and the Student Centre board of directors concerning the abortion debate is hypocritical, considering she and other members of the association recently bemoaned the attempt at McMaster University to prevent students from using the phrase "Israeli apartheid".

Student sit-in scores no-sweatshop deal

A 45-hour sit-in at York University ended after the administration pledged to establish a no-sweatshop policy for University apparel, reported the Toronto Sun March 9. The settlement comes on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, when 15,000 immigrant women garment workers took to the streets of New York City to demand shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

York University President Mamdouh Shoukri invited the 21st-century protesters who had spent the past two nights camped in the hallway outside his office down for a coffee at the campus Treats around noon Saturday. There he listened to their concerns and agreed to set up a policy by April. "The policy will be at least as progressive as the University of Toronto’s, if not more," said Shoukri. "If other universities have had this policy and withstood the test of time, I don’t see why we can’t do it too."

Besmira Alikaj, 23, of the York Sustainable Purchasing Coalition, spent both nights camped out in the hallway outside Shoukri’s ninth-floor office. While the York student is exhausted, she’s extremely happy with the outcome. "I wish he would have come out and talked to us when we first arrived on Thursday." Alikaj has been working for three years with the Sustainable Purchasing Coalition on this issue and says she’s looking forward to working with the administration to create the policy. The coalition intends to continue lobbying the University on other issues, such as Fair Trade coffee.

The Toronto Star also carried the news Sunday that the sit-in had ended. In related coverage Saturday,

  • The Toronto Sun reported that though their numbers dropped overnight Friday the remaining protesters showed much enthusiasm, according to Terrance Luscombe of the York Sustainable Purchasing Coalition. "We’ve been working three years to get York to adopt a no-sweatshop policy similar to ones already in place at Ryerson and the University of Toronto," said the York student. The University takes the issue seriously, said York spokesperson Alex Bilyk.
  • The Toronto Star reported that a University committee, which includes some of the protesters, has been working for three years on such a no-sweatshop policy. "The standards (the University) has recommended largely just abide by the laws of the country of manufacture, but many of these countries don’t have child-labour laws or working hours," said Imran Kaderdina, a fourth-year political science student who is a member of the York Sustainable Purchasing Coalition. "That’s not sufficient," he added. He said the policy particularly needs to address women’s rights – such as not doing business with manufacturers who discriminate against pregnant workers.

Pills are a default solution

Antidepressants are prescribed more widely than birth control pills among university students, notes Myriam Mongrain, a professor of psychology who does research on depression at York University, reported The Ottawa Sun March 10. "It should be a concern," she says. "It’s an indication that physicians think that (pills) are the cure-all for (coping) problems, which is not the case." Talk therapy, as opposed to antidepressants, can lead to longer-term solutions to emotional problems triggered by stressors like relationship conflicts, says Mongrain. "There’s no magic pill," she adds. "If people were able to find other ways of coping with life’s challenges, I think it would save us money down the line."

Humanitarian help for refugees is weak, says prof

Through its Resettlement Assistance Program, Canada accepts more than 7,000 refugees in dire need of resettlement each year – a $44.5-million humanitarian response to suffering refugees, reported Ontario’s London Free Press March 8. Because of this program, Canada is regarded internationally as being one of the more compassionate countries, says Susan McGrath, director of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies. "But in terms of providing humanitarian assistance on the ground, we are weak," she says. “These people all need extended income support and housing assistance and the one-year time limit (two years for those considered to have special needs) just isn’t adequate for people.

"Our support services on this end are not developed well enough to address these gaps and within a year (government-assisted refugees) are supposed to be independent, but they (often) end up on welfare. And our welfare funding is so inadequate that it is not a sustainable lifestyle. It is difficult."

Universities debate sanctions for Internet antics

Students who behave badly online are at the centre of an emerging debate on Canadian campuses as some consider whether to revamp their codes of conduct to impose academic sanctions for Internet antics, reported CanWest News Service and the Ottawa Citizen March 8. Most universities agree that monitoring and punishing unethical academic behaviour, such as cheating, is fair game regardless of where it takes place. But the line becomes blurred when it comes to sanctioning students for non-academic activities.

The Ontario wing of the Canadian Federation of Students said students at several universities in the province, including University of Ottawa, Carleton University, York University, Laurentian University, University of Western Ontario and University of Toronto, report that they know of no plans at their institutions to include online activities in codes of conduct.

Informants are essential in criminal justice system, says prof

Osgoode Hall law Professor James Stribopoulos, who teaches criminal procedure, says informants are essential to the criminal justice system, reported the Law Times in its Feb. 25 issue. “As I tell my students, they’re the grease in the machinery of criminal justice,” he says.

Stribopoulos was commenting on a lawyer’s constitutional challenge over the way Windsor police put together search warrants in drug cases. The lawyer thinks the police should provide some background as to informants’ past credibility.

While there is a potential risk of abuse by police, “from an administration of justice standpoint, it’s better to run that slight risk rather than expose informants to the disclosure of their identity,” said Stribopoulos. The fear, he says, is that information used by police investigations would “dry up.”

But he adds, the Ontario Court of Appeal “has consistently emphasized the need for the police to be frank and forthright” in applying for warrants. “The obligation is to be fulsome about sharing details about the informant.”

Women’s group launches online radio station

Karen Fraser, president of Women Like Me, launched an Internet radio station Saturday, reported Ontario’s Sudbury Star March 8. will offer programming and music about women’s realities and perspectives. Launch Day interviews will feature outstanding achievers such as Andrea O’Reilly, a women’s studies professor at York University. The Association for Research on Mothering she founded and now directs was a first and now has members in 20 countries.