York Debating Society gets high marks in prestigious debate

The York Debating Society (YDS) struck a high note – in crystal – during the Canadian British Parliamentary National Debating Championships held on Nov. 22 and 23 at Queen’s University in Kingston. Two debaters from York University, Brent Kettles and Rudi Lof, dazzled the competition with a whirlwind of rhetoric and a strong, logical debate. Kettles and Lof, who are both from Osgoode Hall Law School, made it to the final competition, placing third overall in the tournament. The pair were awarded two crystal shot glasses – the traditional prize for this debate.

Left: Brent Kettles (left) and Rudi Lof celebrating their third-place finish in the Canadian British Parliamentary National Debating Championships

Dressed in ceremonial robes, Kettles and Lof presented a solid case surrounding Sudan President Omar al-Bashir. In July 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court accused al-Bashir of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, and requested that the court issue a warrant for his arrest.

"As usual, we had no forewarning about the ‘This House Would Regret the Indictment of Omar al-Bashir’ case. When Rudi and Brent heard the resolution, they had 15 minutes to prepare the case and they were the opening government arguing for the resolution," said Emmett Soldati, YDS president.

The debate – moderated by Peter Milliken, speaker of the House of Commons – saw the top four teams in Canada compete for the coveted championship. After many long deliberations, the judges placed the York team just ahead of McGill University, and right behind teams from the University of Toronto. Moreover, Kettles and Lof impressed the Canadian and American schools present by placing fourth and sixth respectively in the category of top speaker.

"Our club meets twice a week and we ran two rounds of debate each meeting in the weeks leading up to the British Parliamentary National Debating Championships," said Soldati. "We do our best to come up with contentious cases to keep debaters focused on topical issues, which often show up at major tournaments."

Left: Emmett Soldati

The tournament on the whole was a success and the YDS sent an unprecedented 20 members to this year’s tournament. With more than 125 debaters from 12 universities in North America, the YDS did remarkably well, with several of its members, including Soldati, reaching the top brackets of the tournament. "Our club has been growing this year and there is lots of enthusiasm – our debaters at the tournament made up large ‘Go Rudi + Brent Go’ signs to cheer on our team," said Soldati. "We’ve definitely put our mark on the debating scene across Canada, both as a fun and proud team, but also as a competitive and skilled one."

The YDS is preparing for the next wave of tournaments in the new year. January will see the club travel to Montreal, Que. and Amherst, Mass., for the North American Debating Championship (a tournament the club has done well with in years past), as well as several tournaments across the country throughout the rest of the semester.

Right: The York Debating Society’s British Parliamentary National Debating Championship team

The club executive is working to bring the essential skills of debating and public speaking to the York campus. This last semester York witnessed an intelligent public show debate in the Vari Hall Rotunda that focused on cultural clubs on campus – an event attended by more than 80 students. As well, the inaugural York Inter-College Debating Tournament on Nov. 1 brought York’s colleges together to compete in a friendly debate, with Founders College placing first.

The YDS was founded in 1985. Key competitors, the University of Toronto and Queen’s University, hold long-standing traditions in debating. For York’s relatively young debating society, age does not seem to matter as the club has managed a series of good rankings over the course of its brief history.

"I started debating last year as a novice because I needed something to boost my academic experience," said Soldati. "Since then, I’ve gone from a below-average speaker to an above-average speaker and I’m now the president of the York Debating Society."

The club is a place for students at York to express their ideas and academic interests in the form of debate and public speaking. The YDS prides itself in fostering a positive environment that promotes learning, critical thinking and an understanding of contemporary and classical issues. Not only is the club very competitive, but it is also dedicated to involving all York students, regardless of discipline or experience.

For more information visit the York Debating Society Web site.