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Surveillance: a Liberal Perspective

by Cosmin Dzsurdzsa

PM hopeful Justin Trudeau has propelled himself into the spotlight once again. Arriving at the SLC on the 10th of September, he was greeted to a liberal cheer-fest. Already a better public speaker than during his leadership debates; his rhetoric is almost as well-groomed as his hairstyle (almost). I entered a crowd of fan-boys-and-girls alike, just in time for question period. This was my first vocal encounter with a national politician and unfortunately for him, I had come somewhat prepared.

I was eager to ask a question regarding national surveillance and government data collection, but somebody beat me to it. It was time for me to improvise and revise. The question asked was along the lines of will the government’s involvement continue in data collection programs. Justin’s answer in a nutshell: yes, more than ever.

He did mention civilian oversight in government decision making (something Harper has almost entirely cut out of the democratic process) and the importance of a continued discussion about the issue. Not laws or reform, just discussion, more particularly discussion between corporations (such as social media giants) and the government. His mention of corporations was an interesting one, but still nonetheless a failure to address the underlying problem.

It is well known that Google and social media websites knows an uncomfortable amount of information about us. His point was: that businesses use this information to generate a profit for their shareholders, not like our benevolent government who uses it for our own ‘security’. He continued to say that the government has a responsibility to ensure our security in a wider world due to an exposure to risk. A lot of talk about discussion, yet he failed to actually discuss the issue at hand.

When we sign up to any website or agree to use a service online, we are presented with a document called the “terms and conditions”. Although, many of us fail to read this document, it is widely available on all major platforms. In the terms and conditions, a lot of legal terminology is used to explain what kind of data they collect from you and how it’s being put to use. If I understand correctly, when you enter a voting booth, or become a citizen of this country, we are not presented with a terms and conditions as to what is being done in the name of our security and what sort of methods we are subject to. No, we have to hear it from somebody else, like our friendly neighborhood, Edward Snowden.

I politely raised my hand and after he commented on my tie (it was a nice tie, thank you), I asked him exactly this, “You said civilians approve to the collection of information by corporations and the government has a responsibility of security to the population. But as I understand, when you sign up on FB and social media, you approve to a terms and conditions. How would civilian oversight, show us the terms and conditions to our government surveillance and data collection?” Now, I was expecting an evasion but not to the magnitude he gave me.

A slight frown appeared on his face and in a defensive tone he cut me down in a single sentence. I couldn’t have been happier about the answer; it was exactly what I wanted. More than I wished for actually, it was a gift to solidify my disdain for big party politics. According to Trudeau, if you vote a particular party into government, you approve to whatever measures they take to ensure your security. So there you have it voters, if you vote Liberal, you approve of continued data collection.

I was surprised by the bluntness of his answer and can only think that it was the only question he was hoping to avoid, but maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. Maybe I just have a personal vendetta towards Justin Trudeau for rejecting my smartly worded questionings. My ego was defeated in the face of such a political giant and superstar, a distinguished veteran in the area of meet and greets. Regardless of my own opinion, when will we as Canadian people have an option to vote for somebody that offers actual change regarding issues that affect all of us? When will we as Canadians have the right to not be subjects of intrusive data collection methods by our own government? Justin, we are not the threat here, you and the government you support is.


I am not afraid

Author: Cosmin Dzsurdzsa

I blundered through my first year; in fact I enjoyed it so much I decided to give it another go. I come to you now as freshman 2.0, new and improved. My faculties have been dusted off, my program updated, and I return feeling better than ever. Fall 2014, here I come. I am not afraid.

Let me explain my first encounter with the big fish called the University of Waterloo. It managed to swallow me up and spit me out shortly after, covered in the slime of disappointment. I left a bad taste (and a hefty tuition) in the institutions mouth. Now to clear things up, I didn’t exactly fail any of my classes; I was forced to withdraw by a series of unfortunate events.

What began as a fantastic year, where I was eager, full of excitement and ambitious, quickly took a turn for the worse. I had begun the first year sprinting, diving into extracurriculars, exploring volunteering opportunities and even going to lectures beyond my scope of understanding. You can call it the naiveté of youth or just simply stupidity. Either way I was having a great time. I stayed relatively on top of my work load and followed through with assignments towards midterms. Then midterms arrived.

Midterms came and went. I frantically tried to salvage some dropping marks and then I crashed. Not figuratively, I literally crashed into another vehicle. So there I was having to deal with an accident, the unforeseen consequences of insurance and my faltering studies. I was beginning to sink deeper into the ocean of burdens and a weight was strapped onto my feet.

If this were a movie, I would have had a cinematic montage of recovery. Unfortunately each day went by as slowly as the rest and I kept sinking. Luckily, instead of just reacting, I acted of my own accord. Immediately after I crashed, I had warned my undergraduate advisor that this would greatly affect my studies. His concern and helpfulness guided me to a brighter ending of this story.

I went from advisor to advisor, explaining my situation, weighing my options, and dropping a few classes. Coupled with an accident, family and relationship struggles served to knock the final nails into my coffin. I was lowered into a six foot hole with a thud and I thought I was done for. I was going to be a dropout; somebody who tried and failed. I thought my world was ending and I envisioned a cynical old man who always talked about who he could have been.

Then, I was offered a way out: withdraw from your course load and begin anew. I was on track to fail a majority of my classes, so I jumped at the offer. My advisor walked me through the process, explained the required paperwork and even personally vouched for me.

My first request was denied; I required proof. I found myself in the registrar’s office gripping course override forms and an accident report. Shortly after, I received an email saying my withdrawal was completed successfully. I was out.

I would remain a student in the records and would have to apply for re-admission come July. Things finally began to relax for me and the weight was shedding. Unfortunately, I was going to miss a year, but I wasn’t too upset. Many people do not begin post-secondary education until they’re 19 and the experience has made me more realistic about my goals.

I took the time off to reorganize myself, work full time, and fix my car. The point is there’s always a second chance if you search for one. If I had remained silent about my situation and had not reached out to the many resources available at the University, I might not have had the opportunity to return.

I look forward to being back, to meet new faces and to offer a perspective for those who are in the same situation. If you’re a first year, you’re most likely feeling a combination of anxiety and hope; hope that you will succeed and the anxiety of possible failure of not meeting your expectations. Life will be hard on you, university will be hard on you, and people might be hard on you, but you don’t have to be hard on yourself. I sincerely hope that every incoming student enjoys their time here this year and if there’s one thing left to say it’s: do not be afraid.

What is our provincial government doing for students?

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

Last June 12th, while many of the students on this campus were away and in a summer frame of mind, the provincial election culminated into a Liberal Majority government. During the campaign, Kathleen Wynne promised that, if re-elected, her party would keep the 30%-off tuition grant in place. Three months later, it appears that the Liberals will keep their word. As they should. The 30%-off tuition grant was, after all, a Liberal initiative back in 2012. During the campaign, the Conservatives claimed they would cancel the grant if elected. Regardless of whether or not we as students believe the grant is accessible enough, or provides enough monetary relief, having it in place is better than not having it at all.

In 2013 the Liberals pledged to cap rising tuition rates at a 3% increase per year. With the Liberals re-elected, the 3% increase will remain. If, instead, we had elected an NDP government, perhaps Andrea Horwath would have followed through with her pledge to freeze tuition rates at current levels and to eliminate the provincial portion of interest on student loans, but there is no reason to ponder what might have been. The question that needs to be asked now is what plans does the Liberal government have in store for Ontario post-secondary education in the future?

In a document on the website of the Ontario Liberals titled “Building a Stronger Post Secondary System”, a number of initiatives and promises are presented. Starting Fall 2015, any student taking a 70 percent course load or less will have to be charged on a per-credit basis, rather than a flat rate. The document also explains that plans are in the works to expand campuses in underserved areas and provide space for an additional 60,000 postsecondary students. The Liberals plan to work with municipalities, colleges and universities across the province to implement expansions. The government has put out a call for proposals to expand and create new campuses. The deadline for proposals is the 26th of September, 2014.

On July 3rd, the Speech From Throne was read to open the 41st parliament. The speech included direct references to investing in education and skills training, to ensuring more students receive postsecondary education, to building new campuses and to increasing access to French-language programs. The speech describes “public investments to develop the talent and skills of our people . . . not [as] a luxury,” but as an investment in the future. The actual budget, to the dismay of many interest groups, contains no new funding for improved access or affordability of post-secondary education. However, the government still claims that by 2025 Ontario will boast a postsecondary attainment rate of above 70%.

In the three months since the June election, the Liberals have talked, minimally about ways to help students, but they have little to show in terms of action. According to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives printed in the July/August Issue of the CCPA Monitor, Ontario students are still paying, on average, the highest tuition rates in this country. It takes 2.7 times the hours of work to pay for an average Ontario tuition today than it did in 1975. While the Liberals may have pride in their plan to create more spaces and larger campuses for students, it matters little if the affordability and the quality of our education system continues to go downhill.

Justin Trudeau visits UW

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

On Wednesday, September 10th at 2 pm, Justin Trudeau was on campus in the SLC to give a speech and host a Q&A session. Students packed the Great Hall, pulling up chairs and politely cramming in as close to the stage as allowed. Cameras were set up and cell phones came out to take video and pictures.

Trudeau began his speech by sharing his views on young people’s involvement in politics. He stated that students are not disinterested, as is often said, and used the packed Great Hall as a representation of student interest in politics. He referred to university students as the “Class of 2015” voters, since many of us will be voting in a federal election for the very first time. Trudeau also spoke about the environment and the economy, telling students they must pressure political leaders into thinking long-term rather than short term. He also touched on the need to minimize divisions in politics in order to govern the whole. He rejected partisan politics and the playing of regions and demographics off each-other in order to get votes, while subtly accusing the Conservatives of doing so.

A Q&A session followed the short speech. UW students who raised their hands and were picked were able to freely ask any question they wished—a practice which is quickly disappearing in an age where many political appearances are scripted right down to the number of hands that will be shaken. Students questioned Justin Trudeau on everything from the gap between rich and poor, childcare, tuition rates, terrorism, government surveillance, pipelines and electoral reform.

Trudeau rejected the idea of eliminating or minimizing tuition rates, saying instead the student loan and bursary system needs to be overhauled. He rejected the option of electoral reform through a Proportional Representation system, voicing support for Preferential Balloting instead, saying it would reduce partisanship. Trudeau also voiced support for a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine, a statement which caused the crowd of the students to clap and cheer.

When asked a question about the legalization of marijuana, Trudeau paused and sat down for a moment before answering. The current methods of control are not “protecting our kids,” he said, stating that in Canada it is relatively easy for minors to obtain the drug. Trudeau implied that through legalization and control marijuana could more easily be kept out of the hands of minors. Incidentally, buttons reading Legalize It, issued by the Young Liberals of Canada, were given out at the event.

Near the end of the Q&A, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of mismanaging the economy, saying that “Conservatives always go into a deficit” and “provide spectacularly bad government.” For someone who consistently rejects partisan politics, Justin Trudeau managed to slip an awful lot of jabs at the Conservatives into his speech, as well as the Q&A.

Construction delays leave students out in the cold

Author: Thomas Little

Construction delays at a new high-rise apartment complex in Waterloo has left up to 500 students searching for alternative accommodations.

The building is “One Columbia” (located at 1 Columbia Street West). It is owned by Schembri Property Management and it will be one of the tallest buildings in the Waterloo Region. That is, when it is completed. Unfortunately for students who had signed leases to move in this September, construction delays left hundreds of students with nowhere to stay for the start of the new term (for some, their first term away at university).

The situation, as well as Schembri’s alleged mishandling of it, has angered the prospective tenants; even though construction will be indefinitely delayed, students who chose to simply sign leases for other rental units have found themselves “locked in”, with Schembri withholding their rental deposits. Another complaint is that despite presumably knowing that construction would not be finished for the start of term, the prospective tenants were only notified at the beginning of September, giving them little time to react.

Schembri initially gave the lease-holders two options: either find temporary alternative accommodations or switch your lease to another Schembri property. After several days, Schembri also proposed a third option: stay in one of three hotels and take a shuttle bus to campus. This was a popular option, since as one student explained, “it was immediate and a guaranteed place to stay.” The lease transfer option proved unpopular, mostly because the option given was for 75 Columbia, which is unfurnished.

On Thursday the 4th, a meeting was held by Feds’ Off-Campus Housing service to discuss the options and advise students. But this has still left students frustrated and confused, and significantly, split into two main groups. Talk on a Facebook group for the 1 Columbia tenants indicated, as one student noted, that “a lot of people were so outraged by the delay that they signed new leases with Domus [or] KW4Rent”. They argue that Schembri, by not providing the accommodations agreed to at the time agreed to in the rental contract, has invalidated the rental agreement, and many would rather leave the situation behind than stay in a hotel waiting for the construction to finish. Despite this, Schembri has not offered to officially terminate the contracts and continues to hold deposits (of $1,450 per tenant).

As of the date of publication, Schembri’s website still lists 1 Columbia as “Ready for Occupancy September 2014”.

What is the Chevron?

The Editorial Collective

Hello, reader! What you have in your hands is the first issue for this term of the Chevron, the University of Waterloo’s independent student newspaper.

The Chevron was once the University of Waterloo’s official student newspaper and was published alongside EngiNews (now the Iron Warrior) and MathNews. In 1976, after a bitter dispute with the Federation of Students, the Chevron staff were locked out of their office. There was a backlash against Feds and multiple “underground” versions of the Chevron were published before the Chevron was restored.

In 1978, after the Chevron had continued to be critical of Feds, a referendum was organized by Feds executives to decide on the official campus newspaper: the Chevron or the new Imprint. The Imprint had been started by the UW Journalism Club and was originally funded completely from advertising, but after gaining official status, it would also receive a levy fee from students through Feds.

Until 2010, the Imprint was the only newspaper on campus aimed at a general student audience (as opposed to the faculty-specific MathNews and the Iron Warrior). In that year, the Chevron was re-launched by a group of students concerned with the Imprint’s level of journalistic integrity and with the actions of the Federation of Students, particularly its perceived indifference to the interests and desires of ordinary students.

This new Chevron, dubbed the “Chevron revival”, made a significant impact on campus by acting as a critical, independent voice on campus affairs. Unfortunately, it ceased publication after one year, with its final issue being published in February 2011.

Today, the Chevron is published by another group of students interested in reviving its traditions of critical and educated journalism, while maintaining a strong focus on what actually matters to students. If the idea of contributing to such a project interests you, we welcome submissions to our editorial email. We also welcome written responses to any or all of our articles. Because we are committed to defending the interests of students, we would also appreciate any article ideas or suggestions you might have about how we can do this.

We wish you the best of luck with your classes and a good Fall 2014 term.

General Meetings

The Editorial Collective

The Feds General Meeting on Monday was an exhilarating experience for the Chevron editors in attendance. Despite its significant length (five hours!), it was well worth the time to see students passionate about issues having a chance to debate them in their own student union, with a real opportunity to make change, even despite barriers (see the article in our previous issue, Feds Shuts Down Debate) which were put up by the Federation’s Board of Directors. What disappoints us, however, is that much of the discussion of the meeting ignores the issues entirely and seems to focus on the meeting itself, notably Alexander Wray’s (1B Planning) community editorial in the Imprint. Wray used very strong language in condemning the GM entirely, calling it a “travesty” and a “sham”.

In the opinion piece, Wray argued that verified majority votes at the GM constituted a “hijacking” of the meeting by “radicals and alternative thinkers”. Wray also made the very serious claim that proxies held by individuals voting were being “completely misrepresented”. The only claim Wray made that the Chevron editors can agree with, in fact, is that “[d]emocracy is broken at the University of Waterloo, and … the ideals of our federation are lost to the voices of a few.”

The larger implications of this statement are significant. For students, the university itself is an only vaguely democratic institution if at all, relying on a small number of student union executives and student senators to represent what students need and want. Something makes us doubt that these are the “voices of the few” which Wray referred to, since he spoke aggressively for a bylaw amendment which would give even more power to the Federation of Students Board of Directors at the expense of student members, and even more aggressively against every other motion proposed by ordinary members.

Also revealing, Wray suggested that in place of this student-driven initiative, the Clubs Library, the Federation should instead place yet another commercial enterprise in the SLC – presumably the greasy, overpriced food already sold in the SLC is not enough. As well, this is not a relevant suggestion for the room chosen to be the future Clubs Library (SLC 2139), as it is located on the second floor of the building near study tables, bookable space, and the offices of the Off-Campus Community and Campus Response Team (CRT) and the main access point from the ground floor being a narrow set of stairs near the “Vendors’ Alley”. Assuming the location was large enough to sell coffee or food at all, it would be one of the few businesses on campus located above the ground floor of a building. By mentioning this, Wray shows that he is motivated by obstructionism rather than actually trying to find genuine ways to improve the SLC.

While criticism and critical debate is an important part of healthy democracy and something which is often lacking in our union (the Federation of Students), it is important to not let criticism discourage students from participating at all. Instead, this criticism can be a sign to active, issues-conscious students who want to act in the collective interests of the students here at UW that what they do matters and far from being discouraged or ashamed from participating in their own student union, they should be emboldened. If students can start to directly manage how SLC space is used, what else can we do together?

In the end, reactions like these expose where our strongest possibilities lie for direct control of our union – in general meetings and referenda, where the students can collectively accept or reject ideas rather than relying on an individual to do it on their behalf.

Think on!

Students Win Clubs Library

Author: Thomas Little

Last Monday, ordinary students went to their Federation’s General Meeting (GM) and voted on an idea years in the making: a Clubs Library located in the SLC, a proposal which would put the “life” back into “Student Life Centre”. Blocked by the Federation’s Board of Directors (see my article, Feds Shuts Down Debate, in the previous issue), the motion was successfully added “from the floor” (by an ordinary participant) of the GM, to a place near the end of the agenda. Despite many controversial motions which came before it, supporters waited for hours to have a chance to discuss and vote on it, leading to the motion passing. This victory for genuine student democracy is, as usual, not without its critics. Alexander Wray (1B Planning) was a noted opponent of the motion, later writing a vitriolic editorial in the Imprint (Federation Lost, in the latest issue), exclaiming his outrage at the “low democracy [sic] reached at this so-called general meeting of students” – an interesting claim from somebody who pledged support for a bylaw amendment which threatens to lock students out of their own GMs by requiring the permission of the Feds Board of Directors for items to make it onto the agenda.

Regardless of this, the plan will go forward, with the library to likely be outfitted and populated with books during the Spring term. According to Cat Mercer, president of WatSFiC (Waterloo Science Fiction and Fantasy Club):

“I think the library will offer clubs a place to share ideas and (yes, I know this is cheesy) build a community. We’re thinking things like book discussions and book openings could happen there. It’ll give people a place to house their materials and discuss them. So I’m excited.”

SlutWalk to Take Place at UW

Author: Erin Perri

This April marks the first annual University of Waterloo SlutWalk. The initiative has been organized by the Women’s Centre, a Federation of Students’ service located in the Student Life Centre (SLC). For many years, the Women’s Centre has worked on initiatives that promote acceptance, inclusivity, and respecting others on campus.

The SlutWalk movement officially began a few years ago. On January 24th, 2011, a member of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) travelled to York University to give a presentation on sexual assault and violence, something that had been all too familiar to the York campus at the time.

The representatives went over the same details that women are given time and time again, but what started the outrage was stating that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.”

Heather Jarvis, a queer feminist activist and survivor of sexual assault, got wind of this. In the summer of 2011, Jarvis began planning the first ever Slutwalk. Her main goal was to debunk the myths and stereotypes around the identification of “the slut.” The bigger picture Jarvis was looking to shed light on is the all too-common victim blaming and shaming epidemic entrenched in so many cases of sexual violence. This speaks to all who have been shamed for dressing a certain way, drinking too much, walking alone, having many sexual partners, and being deemed “asking for it.” Put simply: no one is ever asking to be raped. In situations where this does happen, women should feel comfortable going to the police and gaining support, resources, and justice.

The SlutWalk is here to call foul on the accusations made by the TPS and the many people who still believe that victims hold some responsibility for their assault. The SlutWalk phenomenon spread like wildfire, and SlutWalk marches are now happening internationally.

Our walk holds the same values of the Toronto SlutWalk with an emphasis on the vulnerability of victims in university cities such as Waterloo. The Women’s Centre is proud to be part of a campus that supports its students and works to maintain its safe environment. We are asking people of all genders, sexual orientations, races, ages, and so forth to come out and support this cause. There are no requirements for what people need to look like, dress like, or identify with to take part in this walk. It is instead a united front to show that we are against victim-blaming. We hope to see you all out in support of this important cause.

Sovereignty Again

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

On April 7th, Québécois will vote for a new provincial government in an election called by Parti Québécois (PQ) leader and Premier of Québec, Pauline Marois. In the first days of the election campaign, parties latched onto a familiar topic – sovereignty and the prospect of another referendum. Once the talk of sovereignty reached the ears of the press, there was no laying the rumours to rest. During the leaders’ debate on March 20th, mingled with talk of economics, social infrastructure, governance and national identity, sovereignty, the topic which refuses to die, crawled slowly on and infiltrated nearly every discussion. Marois says that no referendum will take place until Québécois are ready for one. What she means by “ready” is unclear. Sovereignty talk has become almost a default setting for Québec’s politics.

Québec’s sovereignty is a long-running issue filled with complexities. There is no shortage of books and articles on the subject. After years of Québec sovereignty rolling to the surface and two different referenda (one in 1980 and one in 1995), the public attitude seems to be one of exhaustion and disinterest. Especially with students of our generation, the mere mention of the subject often brings eye-rolls, sighs and sarcastic laughter. Québec’s sovereignty is like that one student in the lecture hall who feels the need to challenge the authority of the professor and the structure of the system. Before long, the rest of the students just wish that troublesome student would shut their mouth and sometimes they even tell the student to do so. Eventually, the others get wrapped up with their own affairs and simply ignore the troublesome student, who continues to protest from a corner.

What disturbs me is the “othering” mentality in some Canadians. I’ve heard the people of Québec called “Frenchies” and I once heard someone announce that Québécois should all “go back to France.” So much for peace, love and diversity. To tell Québec to just leave Canada, or to sit back and silently watch as it happens, is to cut out a vital organ and expect the body to continue standing.

Chances are, Québec won’t be attempting to leave anytime soon, as the province has been mulling over the prospect for decades. There’s no reason why this decade would be the decade of severance, but then again, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be. To lose Québec would be to lose an angle of our culture and a large chunk of our economy. I’ve heard people say that if Québec separates they will be serving themselves, economically, a death sentence. I would go further and say that the loss of Québec would be a death sentence for the whole country.

Canada is divided into regions, many of which have a history of feeling excluded. If Québec were to secede, the image of the country that Canadians carry around in their heads would be shattered. Federalism would have failed. What deterrence would there be to stop other provinces from deciding to make a leap for sovereignty as well?

Ultimately, if Québec made the decision to secede, what right would the rest of Canadians have to try and stop them? There is never any use in trying to hold on to someone or something which does not wish to stay. The idea of a united Canada from coast to coast has always and will always hold a special place in my mind and I would do all I can to convince the people of Québec that Canada is a country worth staying in. I hope that each student on this campus would too, but perhaps not. The principle of laissez-faire seems to have transferred from economics to politics.