National Day of Remembrance, Action on Violence Against Women, Dec 3, Hart House

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
12 noon Lawn in Front of Hart House Commemorative Ceremony
1 pm Action for Change Table Group Discussions & Lunch to follow in Hart House
Thurs Dec 3, 2015

We remember all women who are victims of Violence, especially the 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique 


UTSA annual symposium: What ever happened to critical thinking? Thu Sept 24, Hart House

UTSA Annual Symposium- What Happened to Critical Thinking? 7 pm Thurs Sept 24th Hart House, Music Room( 2nd Fl) Casual but structured conversations Pizza and Coffee to be provided. There’s an endless sea of headlines circling around, making bandwagon causes the new norm. What happened to critical thinking? Questioning received wisdom is a timeless philosophical tradition. Suddenly social media makes polarized conformity the new normal. The world is much more complex than black and white. This Thursday the 24th help us bring some colour and life to these issues: the new sex-ed curriculum, the border between free speech and hate speech, and the intimate links between medical research and the pharmaceutical industry.

Ontario Sex-ed curriculum-

Free Speech and Hate Speech-

Medical research and the pharmaceutical industry-

Join the discussion,
-Gianni, UTSA President


Facing the Challenge of Peace: A shared statement by peacebuilding organizations

Joint statement on World Peace Day - CFSC

Facing the Challenge of Peace: A shared statement by peacebuilding organizations

On this day, the International Day of Peace, we, a group of peacebuilding organizations from around the world, bring you this message.

The 70th anniversary of the United Nations brings an unprecedented number of major negotiations, reviews and processes that together will frame the work of multilateralism for the next decade and beyond. Next week, the world’s leaders will sign on to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has identified peaceful, just and inclusive societies as one of five cross-cutting priorities for the international community, and there will be high-level discussions on terrorism, UN peace operations and peacebuilding.

Violence is a fundamental dimension of human suffering, just as are poverty and oppression. Violence darkens lives and destroys hope across the world, from remote villages to famous cities, from the poorest countries to the richest. We cannot hope to eliminate extreme poverty, the central aim of the 2030 Agenda, without addressing violence.

Furthermore, we cannot expect to unravel the challenges of today’s world, from terrorism and displacement, transnational crime and repeated cycles of civil war, oppression and state violence without digging deeper. We must address the roots of violent conflict and instability in economic and political exclusion; injustice, gender and other forms of inequality; insecurity and institutional weakness; and consider changing an international system that does too little to raise up the voices, needs and aspirations of the many, rather than the interests of the few. That many of these issues are upheld in the 2030 Agenda is a heartening development but more needs to be done.

Peace means healthy, more stable lives for our children.
If we accept the premise that the keystone of the UN’s work, across development, humanitarian action and peace and security, needs to be to foster the growth of peaceful, just and inclusive societies, then what changes need to take place – what do we need to do differently?

An initial step would be to use a preventive lens for all development, humanitarian, security and indeed business initiatives, both at the UN and beyond. Leveraged effectively, the 2030 Agenda could help outline a shared approach to addressing and preventing violence at root. The following principles will be vital for the international community to adopt:
  • Embrace the universality of the 2030 Agenda: all societies must work towards becoming more peaceful, just and inclusive. Our task is not complete until all human beings, wherever they may live, can fulfil their potential in peace
  • Always seek to understand the context: an effective and inclusive analysis, involving a variety of local perspectives, including youth and women, should be a prerequisite for any external engagement.
  • In the planning and implementation of development, humanitarian, economic or security engagement, always seek to do no harm, to ensure that unintentionally or otherwise, the consequences of that engagement do not themselves make things worse, for example by affirming existing or new patterns of political or economic exclusion.
  • Focus on increasing resilience, particularly emphasizing the relationship between individuals, their communities and their government. This requires attention to reconciliation and to societies’ capacity to build dialogue, make inclusive and collaborative decisions, and resolve conflicts peacefully.
  • Prioritize local needs, the longer term support for peaceful, just and inclusive communities, over external self-interested agendas, particularly short-term security or stabilization objectives.
- See more at:


Why Canada needs a science watchdog

Why Canada needs a science watchdog

The recent series of pieces at iPolitics on Canadian science and science policy bears witness to a growing concern about the health of public interest science.

One such source of concern is the increasing imposition of constraints on the ability of government scientists to communicate their science to the public. Concerns about muzzling have been voiced by academic institutions like the Canadian Association of University Teachers, media associations like the Canadian Science Writers Association, professional organizations like the Royal Society of Canada and even the prestigious international science journal Nature.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada recently released the first results of a survey of over 4,000 government scientists, 90 per cent of whom reported that they were prevented from speaking publicly about their scientific work. The evidence of muzzling is sufficiently persuasive to have prompted an investigation by the federal Information Commissioner into the legality of government communication policies, following a petition by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic.

A second source of concern is Canada’s reduced capacity for science in the public interest. Recent data from Statistics Canada indicate that in 2012-2013, for the fourth year in a row, federal science and technology funding has declined, with most science-based departments and agencies experiencing cuts. One might argue that in these trying times of fiscal restraint, even science must do its bit. But despite a more difficult economic situation south of the border, President Obama’s 2014 budget plan still included a 9.2 per cent increase ($143 billion) in federal non-defense R&D spending.

Reduced capacity for science in the public interest reflects both ashrinking budget and a shift in priorities away from basic scientific research. The 2013 budget provided $37 million to the three research councils for industry-dedicated programs, effectively replacing funds lost to deficit reduction measures. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Council’s (NSERC) Major Resources Support Program, which traditionally provided much of the infrastructure and equipment for basic research, has been suspended. And earlier this year, the National Research Council (NRC) was restructured to serve as a “concierge” facility for industry.

A third concern is what appears to be the selective elimination or reduction of institutions and programs engaged in the collection of scientific information on the environmental and health impacts of economic development. Shuttered or defunded programs and institutions include the Experimental Lakes Area, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences and the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy, among dozens of others.

A fourth concern is the apparent indifference to evidence-based decision making. In August 2012, responding to questions about the Northern Gateway pipeline, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asserted that “the only way that governments can handle controversial projects of this manner is to ensure that things are evaluated on an independent basis scientifically, and not simply on political criteria.” In March 2013, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver advanced the view that President Obama was — on the Keystone XL issue, at least — “driven by facts“, adding “that’s what drives us as well.”

The evidence suggests otherwise. The mandatory long-form census that provided critical information to governments and businesses alike was replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS), which, it was argued, would deliver similar quality data — even though all the experts said otherwise. Recently, Statistics Canada slapped a disclaimer on the first results of the survey and data from many municipalities across Canada were withheld due to concerns about data quality.


UK scientists apply for licence to edit genes in human embryos : Nature News & Comment

UK scientists apply for licence to edit genes in human embryos : Nature News & Comment

Scientists in London have asked for permission to edit the genomes of human embryos — a request that could lead to the world’s first approval of such research by a national regulatory body.

Kathy Niakan, a researcher affiliated with the Francis Crick Institute, London’s new £700-million (US$1.1-billion) biomedical-research centre, said on 18 September that she is proposing to use gene editing to provide “fundamental insights into early human development”. In a statement released through the Crick, Niakan said that her team wanted to use technology based on the CRISPR/Cas9 system — a recently developed technique for precisely editing genomes that has become hugely popular in the biology community. Her application was first reported by The Guardian newspaper.


Campus Safety Alert, Threats against women on campus. Solidarity event Mon Sept 14

Yesterday, the University of Toronto issued a campus safety alert due to anonymous public threats made against women and feminists on campus (particularly against those in Women and Gender Studies and Sociology). Please know that the University and Toronto City Police are monitoring the situation very closely. The University has a variety of safety programs to support students, faculty, and staff while on campus. Please see for more information.

The following is the link to the President’s statement in response to the threats:

All members of the University committee are invited as an act of solidarity with all women-identified people and feminists on all three campuses by wearing purple on Monday, September 14. Please share  notice of this act of solidarity widely.
Individuals can show support as well by attending the CUPE 3902 Women's Caucus Demonstration Against Gendered Violence at 1 pm on Monday. Our rally begins outside of the Sociology Department (725 Spadina Ave) on the SE corner of Bloor and Spadina!

Lecture, Emmanuel College: Religious Extremism in Muslim History

Religious Extremism in Muslim History

Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub: Religious Extremism in Muslim History
Date: Wednesday September 23, 2015 Time: 7 pm
Location: Auditorium, Noor Cultural Centre
123 Wynford Dr, Toronto, ON M3C 1K1
Admission: $5
Contact the Noor Centre for more information: 416-444-7148
Professor Mahmoud Ayoub (PhD) is Professor Emeritus at Temple
University, and Professor of Islamic Studies & Christian-Muslim
Relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut


Religion in decline: More Harvard freshmen now identify as atheist or agnostic than Catholic or Protestant

Religion in decline: More Harvard freshmen now identify as atheist or agnostic than Catholic or Protestant

An annual survey of Harvard University’s incoming freshman class revealed in September that more students identified as atheist or agnostic than as Roman Catholic or Protestant, suggesting millennials are turning away from traditional American faiths in a country that has long had a Christian majority.

Harvard’s poll of beliefs and lifestyles of the class of 2019 found that 21 percent of incoming freshman said they identified as agnostic and 16.6 percent identified as atheist. Meanwhile, 17.1 percent identified as Catholic and 17 percent as Protestant. In other words, 38 percent of the incoming freshman class said they were agnostic or atheist, while 34 percent said they were Catholic or Protestant.

Some 12 percent of the class said they identified as “other,” including 10.1 percent Jewish, 3 percent Hindu, 2.5 percent Muslim and 0.4 percent Mormon, according to the poll results which were recently published in the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper

European Parliament adopts report calling for comprehensive SRE in schools - British Humanist Association

European Parliament adopts report calling for comprehensive SRE in schools - British Humanist Association

In a vote held in the European Parliament yesterday afternoon, MEPs overwhelmingly voted to adopt the Rodrigues report on ‘Empowering girls through education in the EU’. Adopted with 408 votes in favour and only 236 against (with 40 abstentions), the report calls on EU Member States to ‘improve measures to apply gender equality at all levels of the education system’, particularly stressing the need to introduce comprehensive sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools if this to be achieved

The news has been welcomed by the the British Humanist Association (BHA), which campaigns for compulsory SRE in Britain and supported the European Humanist Federation (EHF) in lobbying for the report’s adoption.

Written by Portuguese MEP Liliana Rodrigues, the report states that ‘sensitive, age-appropriate and scientifically accurate sex and relationship education is an essential tool in the empowerment of girls and boys’ and calls not only for the introduction of compulsory SRE, but also for other subjects to be coherent and compatible with the principles taught as part of that curriculum. Elsewhere, the report also highlights the need to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, as well as encouraging member states to enable girls and boys to challenge traditional and restrictive gender stereotypes.

Despite passing with a sizeable majority, however, the report faced significant opposition from a number of conservative religious groups, including the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA) and La Manif Pour Tous, both of which called on MEPs to reject the report. Indeed, a series of ‘split votes’ on the specific paragraphs related to sex education in schools was held at the request of several MEPs. Happily, efforts to defeat the report were unsuccessful.

BHA Director of Campaigns and Public Affairs, and Vice President of the EHF, Pavan Dhaliwal, commented, ‘We’re absolutely delighted that the report has been approved with such an overwhelming majority of support and we hope that many of the EU’s member states will now move to implement its recommendations. As the report notes, all the evidence indicates that comprehensive and fully inclusive SRE in schools leads to the best outcomes in terms of sexual health, unplanned pregnancies, homophobia, gender stereotyping, and violence against women. It’s well past time that SRE is introduced in all schools and we will continue to campaign for that change both in the UK and at a European level.’


New Species Of Human Discovered In South Africa |

New Species Of Human Discovered In South Africa | IFLScience

Brace yourself: this discovery is huge. So huge that its profound implications will shake up our very own family tree. The University of Witwatersrand, in collaboration with National Geographic,
is proud to announce a remarkable story of human heritage. The discovery of an early human ancestor that sits beautifully within our own genus of Homo. I ecstatically present to you, Homo naledi.

This incredible fossil find comes from the richest single hominin assemblage so far discovered in Africa. A gift that keeps on giving, the species not only enlightens us on the origins and diversity of man, but also seems to display a behavior long believed to be unique to humans, even perhaps a defining feature of our species: deliberately disposing of its dead in an isolated chamber. The discovery has been published in two papers in the open access journal eLife.

A textbook-worthy accident, H. naledi was first stumbled upon two years ago by amateur cavers during an exploration of a cave system known as Rising Star, located within South Africa’s famous Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. From this, the Rising Star Expedition was born, starting in November 2013 with a 21 day exploration involving a team of 60 scientists and volunteer cavers. Expecting to recover a single skeleton, just three days in they realized they had much more than that, “something different and extraordinary,” research leader Lee Berger said at a press event IFLScience attended.

That something different turned out to be not several, but 15 individuals from a single hominin species, represented by more than 1,500 fossil elements found within a single chamber in total darkness some 90 meters (295 feet) from the entrance. Named in tribute to the chamber, naledi means “star” in the South African language Sesotho. And sure, 1,500 sounds like a lot, is a lot, but the team believes that there are thousands and thousands of remains still untouched. “The floor is practically made of bones of these individuals,” Berger added

Harvard gives students more latitude to describe their gender

Harvard gives students more latitude to describe their gender

Harvard University’s largest academic division is allowing students register for the new academic year as male, female or transgender and choose which gendered or genderless pronouns they prefer, school officials said Thursday.

The Ivy League school’s arts and science college, which enrolls about half of Harvard’s 21,000 students, will give them the chance to indicate whether they prefer to use the traditional pronouns “he” and “she” or alternatives including “ze,” “hir” or variants of “they.”

“If faculty or advisors are inadvertently outing someone by using a name or pronoun that doesn’t reflect their authentic self, that is a problem,” said Michael Burke, registrar for the university’s school of arts and sciences. He noted that the program may be rolled out across Harvard’s other schools next year.

Professors will be able to access this information through a new student information system, eliminating what Burke said can sometimes be an awkward conversation about gender identity between professors and their new students.

“If on the first day of class your professor is referring to you as a man, and you identify as a woman, even if you’re not trans, you could understand how that might affect you,” Burke said. “It’s jarring.”


Peel board won't exempt kids from learning about gay families, gender issues | Toronto Star

Peel board won't exempt kids from learning about gay families, gender issues | Toronto Star

Parents can remove their kids from sex-ed classes for religious reasons, but any requests for students to opt-out of learning about gay families or diverse gender identities won’t be tolerated, says the director of Ontario’s second largest school board — one that expects to be hard hit by protests over the new health curriculum.
The same day as anti-sex-ed rallies were planned outside Liberal MPP offices across the province, Tony Pontes was to tell teachers and superintendents about the Peel board’s tough stand, saying if parents have a problem with such strong support for equity and inclusion, the public system may not be right for them.
“Let’s be clear: Some in our community may not like this,” he says in a speech to be given Wednesday morning, a copy of which was provided to the Star.
After noting the 905-area board is opening its first gender-neutral washroom at a high school as well as introducing a new gender identity guideline for educators, some parents “may choose to switch school systems … if so, that is a price we must be willing to pay.
“We cannot — we will not — by action or inaction endorse discrimination,” said Pontes, who cited Ontario’s Human Rights Code as applying to people of all sexual orientation and gender identity. “Supported by legal opinion, bolstered by our core values, I would no more say yes to someone wanting a child excluded because of a discussion about LGBTQ than I would a discussion about race or gender.”
He said that while some parents do have “genuine concerns” that the board will work to address, critics of the updated sex-ed curriculum have used it to “raise fear, generate untruths and build constituencies of protest based on false information. I find that unconscionable.”
Since the new curriculum was announced, opponents, made up mainly of different faith groups, have tried to derail it, labelling it age-inappropriate, radical and even immoral — arguing parents should be the ones providing such information, and at a time when they feel their children are ready.

Explore Hart House: Welcome FREE BBQ Sept 17

Explore Hart House: Welcome BBQ | Hart House

On September 17, you are invited to our first-ever Explore Hart House Welcome BBQ.

Discover rooms where you can strengthen your core and your creativity, from the dance studio to our dark room. Follow uncharted corridors to an improv session or an archery range! Take a right turn  and find yourself in the quadrangle, pressing cider or sharing a free meal.
(They are also advertising debates!)


First teaching of evolution in new primary national curriculum gets underway in English schools - British Humanist Association

First teaching of evolution in new primary national curriculum gets underway in English schools - British Humanist Association

Today marks the first teaching of the new primary national curriculum in English schools, which for the first time includes a module on evolution as part of the year six programme of study (ages 10-11).
 Evolution had previously only been taught from year ten (ages 14-15) onwards, but the development of the module ‘Evolution and Inheritance’ at Key Stage 2 means children will now have the opportunity to learn about Darwin’s theory from a much younger age. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has been at the forefront of the campaign for such a change and welcomes its introduction in schools today.

Seeing evolution taught as part of the primary national curriculum has been a long-time goal of the BHA, and the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign, launched back in 2011, was set up to do achieve just that. Drawing on the support of organisations such as the British Science Association and the Association for Science Education, as well as leading figures such as Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, the campaign successfully secured the change when the Government published the final national curriculum back in September 2013.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘For more or less its entire recent history the BHA has been campaigning for children to be taught about evolution from as early an age as possible, so we’re delighted that this will now start at primary school. So much of our understanding of this world hinges on learning about evolution, and the importance of having children learn about it at a formative age cannot be overstated.’

Free lecture: A Hitchhiker's Guide to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem : Toronto Public Library

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem : Lillian H. Smith : Program : Toronto Public Library

Tue Sep 22, 2015
6:30 p.m.- 8:00 p.m.
Lillian H. Smith library,  , Judith Merrill Science Fiction Collection
239 College Street, Toronto, ON   M5T 1R5  (College and St George, across from UofT bookstore)

Dr. Juris Steprâns (Mathematics and Statistics, York) looks at logic in science fiction, including both the misconceptions and insights which scifi has produced about Godel's theorem, one of the most misunderstoodresults of mathematics.

The Science of Science Fiction series is presented in collaboration with York University's Faculty of Science.


At university, you explore new ideas or you become a jerk | Toronto Star

At university, you explore new ideas or you become a jerk | Toronto Star

A group of Duke University students have declined, for now, to participate in one such heady activity. Students in the incoming class are refusing to read Alison Bechdel's graphic narrative Fun Home because they consider it insensitive to conservative Christian values. They have protested its “pornographic” nature (there are drawings of breasts, and of sex between consenting adults in one or two panels), as well as its depiction of homosexual realities.
Fun Home is a complex, deeply literary memoir that uses work by Proust and James Joyce as narrative scaffolding for a layered examination of family secrets, from Bechdel's father's death (a probable but not certain suicide), to his mostly hidden sexuality, to the author's own development as an artist and asa
lesbian. The book and its author have both won many awards and are highly regarded in cultural and artistic circles. The university no doubt included it as part of a recommended summer reading list because of its provocative themes, as well as for its literary merit and cultural relevance.
The shocked, negative reactions many people are having to the students' refusal to read it is both justified and touchingly naive. College is meant to be a place to try new things! critics have said. It's where you go to have transformative experiences, to learn new perspectives, to see things from the point of view of the Other and learn empathy and tolerance. That is to say, university is where you get to do these things, because heaven knows you won't get to do them anywhere else.
As much as the ideal of university-as-beacon-of-progress-and-free-thought is wonderful, it is just that: an ideal. As many professors, administrators, and students will tell you, the university experience increasingly resembles a four-year trip to Ikea: shopping for those things that fit your personal brand, rejecting the ones that don't match the sofa. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that students feel completely justified in cherry-picking ideas that feel right to them and leaving others on the shelf. They're simply preparing for life as savvy intellectual consumers in a world where empathy costs more than a bedroom set, and is worth less.

Tell Nestlé to leave our water well enough alone. |

Tell Nestlé to leave our water well enough alone. | SumOfUs

Nestlé conditionally purchased a water bottling facility in Ontario that can draw 1,300 litres of water a minute from a well so deep it punctures the bedrock. Residents are rightly worried -- an environmental science professor is calling it "the stupidest, short-sighted, most criminal use of water" he's ever seen.

We already scored a major victory against Nestlé in BC this summer -- let's make sure Elora, Ontario isn't next.

Tell the Ontario Government to ban corporate water permits until the township can produce a water plan.

The residents of Elora will need this water. The town currently uses 1.7 million litres of water a day -- and Nestlé will take 1.6 million litres a day under this plan.

Queer Orientation 2015, Schedule of events - Sexual & Gender Diversity Office

Queer Orientation 2015 - Sexual & Gender Diversity Office

(see comprehensive list of activities at the link above)

Queer Orientation is an annual tri-campus week-long series of events that provides opportunities for new and returning students, staff and faculty to make connections, engage in activities and have discussions related to LGBTQ+ communities.

With over 39 events over the course of just 7 days, this is our biggest Queer Orientation yet!

Queer Orientation is brought to you by a dedicated team of students and staff from: OUT@UTM, SC:OUT, LGBTOUT, Woodsworth Inclusive, Rainbow Trinity, VicPride!, LGBTQase, Rotman Commerce Pride Alliance, LGBT Dance, Que(e)erying Religion, Centre for Women and Trans People, Equity Studies Students Union, Sexual Education Centre, Centre for Community Partnerships, Move U, University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union, University of Toronto Students Union, CUPE 3902, Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, UTM Equity & Diversity Office, Centre for International Experience, Sexual Diversity Studies, Hart House, Kinesiology and Physical Education, Family Care Office and University of Toronto Libraries.
If you have questions about any of the above events, please contact the organizer of the event or the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office.


Humanists for Social and Environmental Action: UN council holds first-ever meeting on LGBT rights

Humanists for Social and Environmental Action: UN council holds first-ever meeting on LGBT rights
UN council holds first-ever meeting on LGBT rights

UN Security Council members on Monday opened their first-ever meeting on LGBT rights to hear Syrian and Iraqi gays tell of terror under Islamic State rule.

“It’s historic,” US Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters ahead of the meeting. “It’s about time — 70 years after the creation of the UN — that the fate of LGBT persons who fear for their lives around the world is taking center stage.”

UN envoys were to hear accounts from Adnan, an Iraqi who fled northern Iraq after being targeted as gay and from a Syrian, Subhi Nahas, who escaped persecution and now works for a refugee organization in the United States.

Since July 2014, the Islamic State group has released at least seven videos or photos online that show the brutal executions of people accused of “sodomy,” according to the International Gay and Lesbian  Rights Commission.

Jessica Stern, the director of the commission, was also to address the meeting, hosted by the delegations from the United States and Chile.


Bill C-51, petition from Amnesty International

Take action for human rights | Amnesty International Canada

Bill C-51, The Anti-Terrorism Act, forms the core of the most comprehensive reforms to the Canada ’s national security laws since 2001. Widely expanded powers and new criminal offences raise serious human rights concerns including:

  1. A vague definition of “threats” that could include a wide range of protest activity that may not be lawful, but is certainly not criminal.
  2. Asking Federal Court judges to authorize CSIS “threat reduction” activities that could include human rights violations in Canada and in other countries.
  3. Suppressing freedom of expression by making it a crime to advocate or promote the commission of terrorism offences “in general”.
  4. Lowering the threshold for, and extending the duration of, preventative detention without charge.
  5. Expanded information-sharing without sufficient safeguards to prevent the sharing of unreliable, inaccurate, or inflammatory information domestically and internationally.
  6. Inadequate appeal procedures for individuals who find their names on no-fly lists. 
  7. No increased review or oversight of increasingly complex national security activities.
Read Amnesty International's Brief submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security

Governmentshave not only the right, but the responsibility to respond to concerns about threats and attacks – including terrorism – and protect their  citizens.
But not at any cost. 

Recenthistory is all too full of  examples on every continent of what can happen when security laws and  practices disregard human rights: tortureand ill-treatment, indefinite  detention, unfair trials, unlawful killings, irresponsible arms  transfers, civilian casualties, profiling and other forms of  discrimination, and crackdowns on protest and dissent.

Canada’s own complicity in a  number of cases including Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, Muayyed Nureddin, Omar Khadr, Abousfian Abdelrazik, and Benamar Benatta remains unresolved.


Ontario Humanist Society « Feature Interview – Masih Alinejad

Ontario Humanist Society « Feature Interview – Masih Alinejad

[***This single interview is actually a combination of the two interviews conducted in the first week of February, 2015. Some sentences had to be slightly re-worked to bridge language barriers and overlap. The essence of the questions and the answers however, and for the purposes of this article, have stayed true to their meaning and intent....]

It isn’t easy catching up with Iranian journalist, writer and activist Masih Alinejad. On the day I finally catch her by phone after multiple back and forth messaging on Facebook (coincidentally, it is also World Hijab Day),
I find she is generous with her time and thoughts and also understandably rushed. She is very much in demand since posting her “My Stealthy Freedom” Facebook page less than a year ago. The page invites Iranian women to post photos of themselves without their headscarves. The page received more than 500,000 likes in its first month alone and continues to grow internationally and among fans here in Canada. This page has generated much debate around compulsory veiling and has also generated much media attention in Europe, North America and Iran. Indeed she is so busy that our conversation must be broken up into two parts.

For our first conversation, she is at home in New York, where she has lived for the past five months with her new husband, after living in England for five years. She is getting ready to see a publisher in the hopes she can write a book about her experience and her life. The second time we speak – a few days later — I reach her aboard a train leaving Washington DC after giving a talk about “My Stealthy Freedom” at Georgetown University. She tells me that Vogue magazine is preparing to do a spread on her next month as well. While she has been largely applauded by Western media and audiences, Alinejad has been maligned by the Iranian government and media. She says she knows if she ever returns to Iran, she will be arrested. She says she stands accused of removing her veil in public and of inciting so-called anti-Islamic behaviour by talking about it openly and brazenly on social media — creating what she calls a safe, public forum to debate the issue of compulsory versus optional veiling and for providing a platform for Iranian women who oppose compulsory veiling to share their experiences.
Controversy and conflict is nothing new to Alinejad. She was arrested at 19 for distributing flyers that were critical of the Iranian government and later, was kicked out of Parliament as a political reporter, after writing some critical articles. She was denied permission to attend university and so moved to England to pursue a degree. That is where she started “My Stealthy Freedom” – something she says she could not have done without platforms offered by social media,   I began by asking her how and why she started “My Stealthy Freedom”.

see the interview and pictures at the link above.

HAT speaker May 9: Climate Change

Humanist Association of Toronto Monthly Speaker Event
Saturday, May 92015
1:30 – 3:00 pm  OISE, 252 Bloor St. west, Room 3-311
Speaker: Peter Jones, lawyer (retired), chairperson For Our Grandchildren
Topic: We Must Act Now on Climate Change – For Our Grandchildren

“I don’t want my grandchildren to see the earth die.” These poignant words introduce the video on the home page of For Our Grandchildren (4RG), a web-based organization whose vision is to connect and empower grandparents and prospective grandparents who are concerned about the potentially disastrous effects of climate change, and to enable them to join a movement to counter and prepare for these effects on behalf of all our children and grandchildren.

4RG offers opportunities for grandparents to learn, comment and to come together with others to discuss initiatives such as contacting their decision-makers with their concerns. The website features an extensive blog with insightful posts on all aspects of climate change, videos, a monthly newsletter, tips on writing letters to the editor, and posters and other documents for use at events. 4RG is endorsed by honorary members Stephen Lewis, David Suzuki and Bishop Desmond Tutu. If you are concerned about the impending effects of climate change and want to help ensure that there is a world for our grandchildren to inherit, join us for this inspiring and informative presentation and discussion.


Social Justice Committee: Letter of Support | Hart House

Social Justice Committee: Letter of Support | Hart House

March 23, 2015

Dear Provost Regehr,

We are the Hart House Social Justice Committee.  We believe that the
University of Toronto administration’s policies on graduate student
funding have created a crisis, and have provoked the current strike by
the members of CUPE 3902. We write in support of the union’s demand that
the funding packages for graduate students be raised.

In our view, the guaranteed funding package is wholly inadequate. As
has been widely noted, this sum is significantly below the poverty line
for Toronto. Moreover, the sum has remained static since 2008. This has
created real financial hardship for many graduate students, and
increasingly functions as an obstacle to the recruitment of excellent
graduate students.

The Hart House Social Justice Committee seeks to provide broad-based
programmes that engage the entire student body. We aim to introduce many
different issues and opportunities for participation around Social
Justice. We cannot stand by while part of this student body is being
marginalized and ignored by the University administration. Furthermore,
the current funding policy stands in direct contrast to our Committee’s
pillars of equity and sustainability. The funding package is neither
equitable, nor sustainable for our university’s graduate students.

Members of Unit 1 of CUPE 3902 are supporters of and contributors to
our social justice initiatives at the University of Toronto and we stand
in solidarity with them. We urge that you act quickly to settle this
strike before it causes any more damage to the university, its students,
and its reputation as a leading institution for teaching and research.

We would be happy to meet with you to elaborate on these points.


Hart House Social Justice Committee


Letter to University from Campus Chaplains re Strike

March 18, 2015
Angela Hildyard, Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity
Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President & Provost

Dear Prof. Hildyard and Prof. Regehr, 

The Campus Chaplains Association at the University of Toronto is a multi-faith organization of spiritual care providers representing the many faith and ethical traditions practised at the University. We work in collaboration with the University’s Multi-faith Centre and Student Life division to care for the spiritual, religious, and emotional needs of students, and to promote harmony and dialogue among the diverse traditions we represent.

We have observed with distress the effect which the current labour dispute between the University administration and CUPE Local 3902, Unit 1, is having on the students we serve, both undergraduates and graduates, and on the public morale of the institution. We acknowledge that the University
of Toronto operates under significant practical constraints; at the same time, we recognize that CUPE 3902 is raising important issues about the funding structures for graduate education, the context in which all questions about reimbursement for the work of graduate teaching and research assistants must be addressed.

Our hope is that the two sides in this dispute will negotiate in a spirit of honesty and transparency, with a willingness to listen to the breadth of each other’s aims and concerns, and that both will approach the conversation in an open and flexible way, rather than from fixed and intransigent positions. Our experience of inter-faith dialogue confirms for us that beginning from a focus on common interests and aspirations is the firmest basis for understanding and constructive engagement.

Catherine Starr, for the Campus Chaplains Association


Amazing Grace: Or, How Humanism Might Save the World

Amazing Grace: Or, How Humanism Might Save the World - 
by James Ford.

Western humanism comes to us from Europe, and really begins in the Renaissance, although it rises by looking to classical antiquity, particularly Greece. This Renaissance humanism combined a celebration of the individual with a close observation of the world around us. And it turns out that is amazingly powerful. This humanism, in fact, shattered the world that had been before.

Instead of our world being the center of the cosmos, we found the Earth is a small rocky planet, spinning around a middling sized star, somewhere out at the very edge of one of many, many, many galaxies, all them part of an inconceivably large universe. And, possibly even more startling, was that whatever was supposed to be meant by humans being created in the image of the divine, we humans have been irrefutably shown to be one of several species of great ape, fully a part of the biological world. So, in humanism, humans are very important, but always within the context of being a very small part of something very big, and very complicated.

As we all know those various discoveries about us and the natural world, would come in fits and starts over many years. And, and, this is important, all along the way people in power have resisted it, challenging, marginalizing, mocking, imprisoning and killing humanists for defying the old ways in their, if you will in our relentless quest to know what is. But, at least so far, this humanist current has been unstoppable.

In time the Renaissance humanist enterprise became the European Enlightenment, and out of that modern scientific method and various philosophies of the person not based in revelation emerged. Today physics is revealing the astonishing weirdness of the very small and the very large in ways that challenge our understanding of the material world. But I believe its biology that has caused the greatest stir to date. In particular Darwin’s and Wallace’s twin discovery of a mechanism for biological change through natural selection has shattered the old certainties about God, and with that loosening the iron grip of organized religions.

In the spiritual realm the discovery of natural selection, to my heart at least, and I know for many others, put the last nail in the coffin of the last great argument for the existence of a supreme God, the so-called “argument from design.” It means, whatever else may be true, the world does not need a conscious agent in order to come to this world that we exist within. Rather what we find is pattern, ordering, is a natural thing that needs no supernatural interference to happen. Rather, what we find at the heart of the world, of the cosmos itself, is creativity. Creativity.

I believe it fair to say that humanism has created the modern world. And, any fair-minded person would have to acknowledge, this relentless inquiry has not been without shadows. Possibly the greatest evil to birth out of the modernist project was “social Darwinism,” a belief, as Herbert Spencer summarized it, in some “survival of the fittest.”

This is a pernicious view clothed as a scientifically supported reality. Libertarianism, the political philosophy that has the greatest chance of overtaking contemporary American culture, is simply a logical conclusion of this position, where the individual acts solely for the individual, and that survival of the fittest is the only morality. If it were true, well, we would have to learn to live with it. But, it is not true. It is predicated on a whole series of false views about reality, starting with an abuse of what Darwin actually observed.

Fortunately there are alternative ways of engaging the world from a naturalist, from a vital humanist perspective. Ways I find that are at once more accurate, and speak to a more generous and rich possibility for human beings, and, for the rest of the natural world. However it requires us to re-examine the scientific paradigm that has come to be the backdrop of our understanding of reality, and which informs our contemporary humanism. It requires we move beyond a bare positivism, as those philosophically minded might put it, toward what some call a critical realism.

This critical realism takes the tools we’ve found within the humanist eruption and turn them on ourselves.

We see where we are. Arising precious and unique, none of us ever to be replicated.
And fragile. All of us…
And then we can see what we can do.
We see we are all of us and this blessed planet connected.
Connected more deeply than can ever be said.
And, we act from this place.
And then the whole thing will be blessed.
And every action taken, a blessing.
That, my friends, is something worth calling amazing grace…

The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Page |

The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Page | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS) - Media coverage of maternal, sexual and reproductive health rights is crucial to achieving international development goals, yet journalists covering these issues often face significant challenges.

“When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy. Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother - and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.” -- IPS correspondent Stella Paul
Recognising the contributions these journalists make to advancing women and girls’ rights, international advocacy organisation Women Deliver have named 15 journalists for their dedication to gender issues ahead of International Women’s Day 2015.Among the journalists Women Deliver recognised for their work is IPS correspondent Stella Paul from India. Paul was honoured for her reporting on women’s rights abuses through articles on such issues as India’s ‘temple slaves’ and bonded labourers.

Paul’s dedication to women’s rights is not only shown through her journalism. When she interviews communities, she also teaches them how to report abuses to the authorities and hold them accountable for breaking the cycle of violence....

Another journalist honoured was Mae Azango from Liberia. Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen told IPS, “Mae Azango deserves a Pulitzer. She went undercover to investigate female genital mutilation in Liberia.

“After her story was published she received death threats and [she] and her daughter were forced into hiding. Mae’s bravery paid off though, as her story garnered international attention and encouraged the Liberian government to ban the licensing of institutions where this horrific practice is performed,” Iversen added.

Azango told Women Deliver, “Speaking the truth about female genital cutting in my country has long been a dangerous thing to do. But I thought it was worth risking my life because cutting has claimed the lives of so many women and girls, some as young as two.”

Iversen said that many of the honourees had shown incredible dedication, through their work. “For some of our journalists, simply covering topics deemed culturally taboo – like reproductive rights, domestic violence or sexual assault – can be enough to put them in danger,” she said.

However despite their dedication, journalists still also face obstacles in the newsroom. “One of the questions we asked the journalists was: what will it take to move girls’ and women’s health issues to the front pages?” Iversen said.

“Almost all of them said: we need more female journalists in leadership and decision-making positions in our newsrooms. Journalism, like many other industries, remains a male dominated field, which can be a majorobstacle to publishing stories on women’s health and rights.”

But the issue also runs deeper. There is also a lack of recognition that women and girls’ health rights abuses and neglect are also abuses of human rights, and combatting these issues is essential to achieving development for everyone, not just women and girls.

This means that women’s health is often seen as ‘soft news’ not political or economic news worthy of a front-page headline. “Unfortunately women’s health and wellbeing is still, for the most part, treated as ‘soft’ news, despite the fact that when women struggle to survive, so do their families, communities and nations,” Iversen said.

“Every day, an estimated 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, 31 million girls are not enrolled in primary school and early marriage remains a pervasive problem in many countries. These are not just women’s issues, these are everyone’s issues – and our honorees are helping readers understand this link.”

As journalist Catherine Mwesigwa from Uganda told Women Deliver, “Women’s health issues will make it to the front pages when political leaders and the media make the connection between girls’ and women’s health and socio-economic development and productivity, children’s education outcomes and nations’ political stability.”

Male journalists also have a role to play and two of the fifteen journalists honoured for their contribution to raising awareness on these crucial rights were men. Besides India and Liberia, other honorees hailed from Argentina, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.


International Women's Day Amnesty International U of T- March 6

International Women's Day Amnesty International U of T- Eventbrite

Women have made great strides in closing the gender gap and in creating new possibilities for themselves. However this progress remains at different stages in different parts of the world, and many of the things we take for granted are a scarcity for women elsewhere. Given the progress we have made in overcoming these barriers it is part of our duty to also advocate for the same rights and freedoms for women everywhere in the world.

Amnesty International U of T would like to invite you to our International Women's Day panelist event featuring Marina Nemat, Samra Zafar, and Mayo Moran as speakers and moderated by Mark Kingwell.

The evening will consist of a panelist discussion followed by a brief question and answer period. Following the discussion will be a letter writing session accompanied by performances. 

see also

Attending the graduation ceremony of students at the prestigious University of Toronto, my daughter pointed out Samra Zafar, saying
“She topped in Economics and she is a Pakistani!” 
Samra was flanked not by parents, but two daughters, aged 12 and seven. I wanted to know more about her, and hence invited her over to our house next evening. At home, while sipping tea, Samra shared her 14 year journey with me and I was absolutely floored by her story.

In 1999, in Abu Dhabi, Samra was a brilliant 16-years-old student of grade 11, dreaming to go to a foreign university to pursue higher studies. Her only fault was that she was tall and extremely good looking – she was a dream bride. Hence when the proposal from a ‘well settled boy in Canada’ arrived, it was difficult for her working class parents to refuse. Eldest of four daughters, the parents thought this would give her a great opportunity to go aboard and pursue her dream, under the safety of her husband and in-laws. The in-laws reassured their support too.
However, once married and in Canada, things changed. She was told,
“The atmosphere in high schools is not good, and hence it is better to not be thankless and stay happy at home.”
Samra refused to give up though and completed her high school courses through distance learning.
Despite being a mom at the age of 18, she excelled in her high school exams and got accepted to the University of Toronto. Her husband, however, refused to support her and his good financial status left her ineligible for university loans.  She tried to convince her in laws for three years but to no avail.
It was not just her education; she was under strict vigil all the time. She was not allowed to leave the house, had no cell phone and was not allowed to learn how to drive. She never had a penny on herself and was constantly abused and neglected.

Samra had not visited her parents for five years. The first time she went back was when her father sent tickets for Samra and her daughter. When she was leaving, she asked her husband fora meagre $10 so that she could have some coffee and buy some chocolate for her daughter during their transit stop at Heathrow Airport. He just snarled at here and said,
 “Ask your father for that too.”
She had left and did not intend to come back, but her husband begged her to return with a promise that he would change and that she will be allowed to study this time; he said that he realised he could not live without her.  Reassured, Samra returned, only to know that once she got pregnant the second time, the physical abuse was to became worse. Samra stated that,
“A bruise on my upper arm was a permanent fixture, as in every bout of anger, he would grab my arm really hard and squeeze. Often he pushed me, pulled my hair and spit in my face, even in front of my daughters.”
Again disheartened, she went back to her father’s home, pregnant with her second daughter. Within a couple of months her father suddenly fell ill and passed away. Samra recalls the day before his death and the advice her father gave her when he said,
“My life is uncertain, I may not live to look after you. You have to be strong and pull yourself out of this. I have always envisioned seeing you at the top of a world ranking University.”
Things had changed. Her mother was alone now and had two other unmarried daughters to support.
Samra, accepting it as fate, returned to her husband. To earn her own money, she began baby sitting in her house. As consolation to continue her work, she would give her husband some pocket money from which he would buy his cigarettes and a share to her mother in law, too, to earn their approval.
In 2008, she applied again and got accepted to the University of Toronto. This time she did not have to look to her husband for financial assistance, as her child care business could enable her to pay her own fees. However, this led to escalation of physical abuse. She was instructed by her husband on a daily basis,
“Don’t talk to your male professors, don’t talk to anyone on campus and don’t go to the library.”
The abuse was so severe, that she had to take a break after the first year. Several times she had suicidal thoughts and her self-confidence had completely shattered. That led her to a meeting with the Psychological Counsellor at the university campus. She attended the sessions in secrecy and there she was informed that what she was going through was a typical cycle of domestic abuse. And that it was not her fault, or her destiny to bear it. She reveals;
“It was my daily routine to beg my husband and ask him, ‘Why do you do this? Why don’t you love me?’”
And all he replied with each time was,
“Because you deserve this.”
The psychological counselling at the university, gave her the strength to get back to university. By the second year, the abuse had become worse but she had been told that she could call 911 if need be.
“I will call the cops, if you hit me again.” She uttered once, while her husband raised his hand. That is what triggered him to say, “Talaq, talaq, talaq.
(I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.)
Samra says,
“I was shattered, and I did not know what to do next. If I left the house, I would not have childcare income. How would I continue to study? I had two young girls to support.”
Samra’s husband and in-laws ran from pillar to post to get Fatwas to invalidate the divorce. Samra laughs,
 “Once my mother-in-law even brought a person for the necessary Halala to rectify the Talaq.”
However, by now Samra had, despite many weak moments, gathered enough strength to move out of this cyclical abuse and face what came her way. She shifted to a residence at the university campus. Her husband and in-laws then tried threatening her; they said either return or they would malign her in the local Pakistani community of her ‘living’ with men at the university. Her husband often told their daughter,
“Do you think your mother goes to university to study only?”
Samra revealed that,
“After a decade of physical, financial, psychological and emotional, abuse it was only in the summer of 2011, that I finally had the courage to go to the cops and give a detailed, date by date account of the abuse I faced, along with the evidence.”
As a result, her husband was arrested on four counts of assault. Despite two court cases, three jobs and two children, she continued to excel in her studies and became head teaching assistant.
Today, Monday June 10, 2013, at the official convocation of the prestigious University of Toronto, Samra will not only be awarded a Bachelors degree in Economics, but she will also be awarded the prestigious Top Student Award in Economics. She also has to her credit a dozen more awards given to her for her academic excellence in the past four years, including the  prestigious John H Moss Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a single student in the entire university (all three campuses). She has also been admitted to the PhD program in Economics at the University of Toronto, with a full scholarship.

When not studying or working, Samra loves cooking for her girls and gives them all the free time she gets
“We are now the happiest we have ever been.”
I asked her how she would advise other girls who are trapped in the same scenario and to that she said,
 “Do not let anyone disrespect you. Believe in yourself. You are the only one who can change your situation. It is not easy, but it isn’t impossible either. I had all the disadvantages any girl could have.”
She refers to the myth of needing a man as a support,
“I have no father, brother, son, or husband to support me. But I have done it, all by myself. If I can do it, anyone can.”
Read more by Ilmana here or follow her on Twitter @Zeemana 

Damning Report Reveals Canada's Indifference Toward Indigenous Women | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Damning Report Reveals Canada's Indifference Toward Indigenous Women | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Over the course of two decades, dozens of human rights groups, First Nations advocates, and women's organizations have issued more than 700 recommendations on how to stem the Canadian crisis of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

But an "alarming" study (pdf) released Thursday shows that governments in Canada have repeatedly ignored those recommendations, lending credence to the claim that federal and provincial officials are dismissive of the risks Indigenous women face today.

Indigenous women are three times more likely to be victims of violence than non-Indigenous women, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women reviewed 58 reports dealing with aspects of violence and discrimination against Indigenous women and girls, including government studies, reports by international human rights bodies, and published research of Indigenous women’s organizations. They found that "only a few of more than 700 recommendations in these reports have ever been fully implemented."

Members of the coalition, which includes Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, expressed outrage at the findings.

"How many Indigenous women and girls would have been found or would still be alive if governments had acted on more of these recommendations?" asked Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. "This is yet another piece of irrefutable evidence that governments in Canada have breached their fundamental moral and legal responsibility to ensure the safety of all women, without discrimination."

For example, four separate reports have recommended the establishment of a national commission of inquiry to investigate the persistence of violence against Indigenous women and girls. But while all provinces and territories have endorsed the idea, the Canadian federal government has rejected such calls. In an interview with CBC at the end of last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, in response to a question about whether the government was considering a national inquiry: "It isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest."