Students seek recall of leaders

The fallout from the three-month strike at York University continued yesterday with a group of students seeking the recall of student leaders who they say did not represent their interests during the labour dispute, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 12.

The group has gathered support from more than 5,000 students demanding the recall, which would force the York Federation of Students’ five executive members to face an election to remain in office for the two months left in their term. "We want to give students back their voice," said Ted Bethune, one of the organizers of the group who also sits on the federation’s board of directors.

Bethune said many students became frustrated during the lengthy dispute that student leaders were not fighting for students and made statements that supported the demands of the striking teaching assistants and contract faculty. He said the action is necessary even though annual elections are planned for next month. "We need government that represents us now," he said.

A Facebook group was formed early in the strike calling for the removal of the federation’s president, and other grassroots groups organized to press the provincial government for back-to-work legislation, an action that eventually was taken, sending the dispute to arbitration.

Under new rules adopted by the federation this year, the elected leaders can be kicked out of office if the recall has the support of more than 10 per cent of students.

Federation president Hamid Osman defended his actions during the long strike, saying the executive sympathized with the demands of striking workers, but also urged both sides to return to the bargaining table. "Since when is it a bad thing to support fair wages and job security?" he said.

Osman said he has no plans to run again for office but did not know the intentions of other executive members.

Also yesterday, the provincial and federal governments announced extra financial help for York students who face increased costs because of the extended school year. The University also is offering help through a new bursary program and will allow students to drop a course this term and receive a tuition credit for a course next year.

It also will allow them to remain in residences for the additional time required to complete their courses at no cost.

York loans beefed up

The Canadian government will lend out between $6 million and $7 million in extra student loans to help York University students finish their strike-lengthened year, wrote The Toronto Sun Feb. 12. But at least one York student politico questions why students are getting saddled with more debt for a strike they didn’t cause.

York Federation of Students vice-president of equity Krisna Saravanamuttu said it’s not fair that students go into more debt because of the labour dispute between the University and CUPE Local 3903, which represents the contract faculty and teaching assistants. "It’s going to dump them into even more debt," Saravanamuttu said. He and the federation have been collecting petitions calling on the University to provide a 12 per cent minimum tuition fee refund for all undergraduate students.

  • Frank Cappadocia, director of York’s Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development, and students Kylie Tao and Alison Charles, spoke about the loans program on OMNI-TV’s Cantonese Edition News Feb. 11.

Police investigating possible hate crime against York University student

A York University student known for supporting Israel received a threatening phone call last week that police are investigating as a potential hate crime, wrote the National Post Feb. 12. Detective Brett Kemp of the York Regional Police hate crime unit could not identify the threatened student, but confirmed he is "involved in pro-Israeli political social clubs" at the University.

The student received a threatening phone call at his Thornhill home early on Feb. 4 from a caller who threatened to harm both the student and his family, police said. Kemp said it is being investigated as a hate crime but stopped short of confirming earlier reports that the caller threatened to murder and rape the victim’s family members. "We are cognizant of the issues related to conflicts overseas and how they impact local residents," he said.

Living with Oedipus for 15 years

Many great writers from Sophocles to Voltaire have tackled the Oedipus myth, wrote Maclean’s in its Feb. 23 issue. None has the ambition of a new version by Kingston, Ont.-based playwright Ned Dickens, who is currently staging the family history of Oedipus, which takes place over 150 years.

Dickens’ production is a logistical challenge (some might say nightmare). The epic involves seven plays, each based on a character in the story. The seven plays have been divided up and are being staged locally by Canadian theatre students including a troupe from York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. The student actors from across Canada will then fly to Toronto to put on the whole series, called City of Wine. The shows will be staged over three days and the complete cycle will run twice, back to back, from May 5 to May 9.

Some of the student actors have worked on the show for years, starting the project at the beginning of their theatre program, and staging it now as they finish their degree. The historical family saga has taken 15 years to produce.

Staging the story did not come cheap, even with student actors. The plays were produced by the independent theatre company Nightswimming, which raised several hundred thousand dollars…brought in about 70 professional actors and about a dozen directors, including the award-winning Jillian Keiley (BFA Spec. Hons. ’94), to work with the students for several years to polish their performances.

The multi-city performance is being staged at a time when theatres are struggling to fill seats, says Rob Fothergill, theatre professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Last week, investors pulled out of Rob Roy: The Musical, scheduled to open in March in Toronto, and the Toronto-based Buddies in Bad Times Theatre has also cancelled a show scheduled for next month. The current trend in independent Canadian theatre is to avoid financial risk with smaller productions and a cast of just a few actors; City of Wine has more than a hundred.

Fine Arts grad adapts children’s book for stage

The first challenge Carrie Costello (BFA Spec. Hons. ’00) faced when attempting to adapt the children’s book There’s a Mouse in My House into a play was finding a way into the story, wrote the St. Catharines Standard Feb. 12. "Stories are meant to be read and you need to figure out, what makes it a play? It’s games, activities and actions. Each story is a way to engage the audience," she said.

After five years, three workshops – including a three-week-long session in the fall – and a public reading, Costello’s adaptation of Sheree Fitch’s book will make its public debut on Saturday, with two performances by Carousel Players, at 11am and 2pm, at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.

The play is also touring Niagara elementary schools until April 2, with a few dates still available.

During the course of There’s a Mouse in My House, the young audience will have the opportunity to be mice at a wedding and pretend to play with toys. "I wanted to foster that. At that age group, they are so willing to say, ‘Let’s go!’ I wanted to take that and use it in a play," Costello explained.

York students launch Web site to help wrongfully convicted NB man

A group of York students has launched a Web site and an online petition in an effort to help get compensation for a dying Ontario man who was wrongfully convicted of murder in New Brunswick 34 years ago, wrote The Canadian Press Feb. 12.

Erin Walsh was convicted in 1975 of killing Melvin (Chi Chi) Peters in Saint John, NB, and served 10 years in prison before getting parole but was acquitted last year after new information was uncovered.

Walsh, who has colon cancer, has launched a civil suit that names the province, the Crown prosecutor in the original trial, the City of Saint John and Saint John Police as defendants.

York Student Newsha Moghaddamfar says she and her colleagues were outraged by the delay in the court case, and in awarding compensation.

Each time someone signs the petition, an e-mail is sent to New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham and Attorney General T.J. Burke. Burke says he applauds the students for their initiative but says they should know that the failure by Walsh’s lawyer to produce certain documents is one reason for the delays.

  • The River 99.3-FM Radio in Miramichi, NB, also carried a story on the petition and Web site Feb. 12.