Monthly Archives: December 2014

President Gupta Accepts Racist Christmas Challenge

Every year at Christmas, a bunch of celebrities get together to ponder whether or not the predominantly Christian continent of Africa is aware that it is the annual celebration of Christ’s birth*. More accurately, they get together to question whether their stereotypical Africa – the hopeless, starving, disease-ridden continent of uneducated people suffering from malaria, AIDS and most recently, Ebola, know that is, and has been since late October, the Coca-Cola season of consumerism, decadence, and capitalist dreams.

UBC President Arvind Gupta recently accepted Bob Geldof’s challenge to help fight Ebola with BandAid30. While the challenge of eradicating Ebola may be a hard one, eradicating negative stereotypes about Africa seems even more difficult. Gupta donated around $18 to the overall $1.5 million raised for the Africa-saving initiative; he also bought into possibly the single most out-dated, offensive and racist song of 2014 (which is a tall order after Iggy Azalea and Katy Perry’s contributions).

Either this group of incredibly disappointing celebrities (we bet you can find at least one of your faves among them) genuinely believe that the 54 countries of Africa are a “world of dread and fear”* where the Christmas bells clang “chimes of doom”, or they are ridden with the worst and most destructive disease of all: the white saviour complex. Just like Leigh Anne “I Adopted a Black Kid So I’m Not Racist” Tuohy, who recently accosted two black teenagers who were behaving “suspiciously” (aka being black in public) and then posted a photo on social media proclaiming her own heroism, white people feel the need to step in for, speak over, police, “protect”, correct and “save” black people and other non-whites.

This complex is most prevalent when white girls visit Africa, participate in voluntourism, return with profile pictures in which they are donning local beaded necklaces, surrounded by adoring little black orphans and wait for comments from their equally narrow-minded friends to shower them in glory. “You’ve changed those children’s lives”, “They love you”, “You’re amazing, Becky, so selfless!” But helping poor people in Africa is a good thing, right? Wrong, or at least in this way. At best, with language barriers, lack of relevant skills and no knowledge of local geography or practises, voluntourists are pretty much useless to local people. At worst, they reproduce negative stereotypes about Africa, assert Western/white dominance, replace local workers, create unsustainable power relations, and perpetuate racist narratives.

Okay, sure, maybe you agree that dehumanising Africans through charity appeals and decades-old tired and banal caricatural stereotypes is pretty terrible. And perhaps, if you’ve thought about it, you’ve also noticed how racist and degrading the lyrics are. But it’s not so bad if the money the song raises is actually going to ‘help end Ebola’, right? Again, wrong. It’s not even clear what groups the $1.5 million raised thus far are going to. BandAid30’s website says that money “will be donated to the intervention and prevention of the spread of Ebola” but specifies nothing beyond this. On top of this, how can we trust that any cures or vaccines will reach people in West Africa? The handful of people who have been cured after contracting Ebola have been American or European, which alludes to the fact that money supposedly going to Ebola research may not be reaching the poor, hopeless orphans of Liberia the BandAid song trills on about.

We’re not saying this is KONY 2012, but come on, it’d be nice if white saviours took a break every now and then from their benevolent racism. And it’s not even like singing about Ebola is a striking new idea. Some African musicians had already done it before and did a much better job, because you know, there isn’t that whole racist, neocolonial helping imperative element to it. As for ending the spread of this disease in the three west African countries (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — yeah, not all of Africa) where it’s emerged? Pretty sure they can do without most Western interventions, as the prevention of it by a rad group of local healthcare workers in Nigeria demonstrates.

Trust us, we’re not the only ones grimacing about this latest ploy of the “let’s save Africa” brigade; there are others ranting about it here, here, here and here.

So we ask the hard-hitting question: Did President Gupta really think that singing off-key would make us forget about his recent decision to increase student fees?


*Full lyrics:

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

[One Direction:]

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid

[Ed Sheeran:]

At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade

[Rita Ora:]

And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy

[Sam Smith:]

Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

[Paloma Faith:]

But say a prayer and pray for the other ones

[Emeli Sandé:]

At Christmas time it’s hard but while you’re having fun

[Guy Garvey:]

There’s a world outside your window and it’s a world of dread and fear

[Dan Smith:]

Where a kiss of love can kill you

[Angelique Kidjo:]

Where there’s death in every tear

[Chris Martin:]

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom


Well, tonight we’re reaching out and touching you


Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa

[Ellie Goulding:]

A song of hope where there’s no hope tonight

[Sinéad O’Connor:]

Why is comfort to be feared, why is to touch to be scared?


How can they know it’s Christmas time at all?

[One Direction:]

Here’s to you

[Olly Murs:]

Raise a glass to everyone


Here’s to them

[Sam Smith:]

And all there is to come

[Rita Ora:]

Can they know it’s Christmas time at all?


Heal the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world

Let them know it’s Christmas time again


Photo Essay: Vigil for Phuong Na (Tony) Du

On November 22, at the intersection of Knight Street and 41st Avenue in East Vancouver, Phuong Na (Tony) Du was shot dead by Vancouver police. He was unarmed and had been tapping a fence with a piece of wood. Witnesses say that he was shot within a minute of the police arriving on the scene, sparking the hashtag #OneMinuteforPhuong to commemorate his death.

The shooting occurred at a time when police violence against Black people in the United States was in the global spotlight, two days before the announcement that police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the killing of Michael Brown. Shortly afterwards, the grand jury in the case of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a New York police officer, also failed to indict. The killing of Phuong serves as a reminder that the lives of racialized, Indigenous, disabled, and otherwise marginalized people are devalued here too. It bears remembering that this is not an isolated incident.

On December 21st, youth of the Vietnamese community organized a vigil to honour Phuong’s life and to bring attention to his death at the very intersection where it happened a month before. It was held in Vietnamese and English.

Organizer Vanessa Bui read a statement prepared by members of Phuong’s family, some of whom were present at the vigil. Phuong’s friends also spoke. 51 years old when he was killed, Phuong was born in rural Vietnam. Despite a harsh childhood, with food being scarce, Phuong was described as being happy, a family man, a gentle soul. A witness to the shooting spoke, saying that the incident traumatized her. Bui described the status of the investigation into his death by the Independent Investigations Office, noting with frustration the difficulty of achieving justice through this process. Attendees observed a minute of silence, and candles and white carnations were distributed and later arranged to form a memorial.

The Independent Investigations Office is asking witnesses to come forward. Organizers of the vigil are asking for donations to cover the expenses of the event.

Attendees expressed solidarity with anti-Black police violence

Attendees expressed solidarity with victims of anti-Black police violence.

Attendees briefly blocked traffic before being asked to stop by an organizer.

Protesters briefly blocked traffic before being asked to stop by an organizer.

Protestors held signs towards passing cars.

Protesters held signs towards passing cars.

Vigil for Phuong 15

Phuong’s friend speaks to the crowd

The vigil was held in Vietnamese and English.

Peggy Lam, an organizer for the event, translated the English statements into Vietnamese.

A witness to Phuong's death holds a piece of wood, as he had done

A witness to Phuong’s death holds a piece of wood, as he had done

Phuong's sister holds a framed photograph of him

Phuong’s sister holds a framed photograph of him

Vigil for Phuong 39

Candlelight memorial

UBC-hosted mining institute a threat: an open communiqué for directly affected communities


Critical analysis of the limited information that’s been released over the last year and a half from the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI), hosted at UBC in coordination with Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the École Polytechnique de Montréal (EPDM), leads to some damning conclusions. CIRDI is a mining, oil, and gas industry think-tank with aims of helping Canadian transnationals’ competitive advantage in resource-rich nations, thinly disguised as an academic unit focused on extractive sector policy and legislation in foreign countries.

UBC and SFU students identify this as a problem.

It’s a problem for our universities to host CIRDI. Its mandate, leadership structure, partner network, and lack of transparency lead us to identify CIRDI as equipped only to serve the interests of the Canada-based transnational extractive sector at the expense of communities and countries already made vulnerable by foreign intervention. It’s not just a few bad apples, but something that is pervasive in the industry. Some of the largest and most prominent of the 1200 or so mining companies based in Vancouver are accused of abuses abroad. And CIRDI has made strategic partnerships with some of these very companies.

CIRDI originates from the Prime Minister’s Office back in 2011, as part of Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy to “improve the competitive advantage of Canadian international extractive sector companies”. Originally called the Canadian International Institute for the Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID), it receives $24.6 million from the federal government’s ‘international development’ budget, $3.39 million direct and $3.3 million in-kind aid by UBC, $4.15 million by SFU, $1.4 million by EPDM, and $9 million from its strategic partners. It is instructed to find further funding from sources including the extractive industry and financial institutions.

From efforts to understand the initiative, we conclude that CIRDI

  • was originally mandated by the federal government to benefit the Canadian extractive sector in its operations overseas (despite hat tips to poverty alleviation, equitable sharing of the benefits of extraction, and improvements in extractive sector “governance” in developing countries),
  • fits into a historical context that encourages wariness of Canadian development or research initiatives supporting the extraction of resources in others’ sovereign territory, and
  • has a predisposition to ignore critical voices and those calling for transparency.

There’s a wealth of literature challenging the argument that academic independence and integrity can be maintained with industry funding and no safeguards. CIRDI’s funding scheme and partnership structure – relying on industry contributions after the federal government’s 5-year seed funding runs out – will make CIRDI and its strategic partners dependent on, and in many ways beholden to the needs of, the companies and industry associations that need legitimization from partnership with and research/programming by academics and NGOs.


Since CIRDI is organized to conduct research and programming internationally that will serve the Canadian extractive sector, we identify any organization collaborating with this institute as – either willingly or unwittingly – by extension working on behalf of the Canadian extractive sector and contributing to the threat it poses to mining-affected communities.

The communiqué was posted last month on the Stop the Institute blog in English and Spanish. An extensive network of solidarity organizations are also actively distributing it to communities and grass-roots organizations outside of Canada.

If you’re concerned that CIRDI or its partners may be pursuing projects or meddling in legislation or governance in an area where languages other than English or Spanish are spoken (specifically Mongolian, Vietnamese, Quechua, any of the Mayan languages, and French), and you can volunteer to translate the document, please connect with us at 

A regularly-updated list accompanying the communiqué names the academic and non-governmental organizations as collaborating with CIRDI, identifying those listed as the front-lines of information-gathering or legitimization for the Canadian extractive sector abroad. 

This can impart a reputational liability to each organization, department, or faculty supporting CIRDI, and we unapologetically acknowledge that this may challenge other on-the-ground programming and research carried out under the name of the listed organizations.

However, as these organizations formally withdraw their support from CIRDI, or as individuals leave their management or directorial positions with the Institute, we’ll remove their names. Similarly, as we find out more information (say, through Freedom of Information requests), we’ll update the page accordingly.

Explore the Stop the Institute site for more information on CIRDI, details about the many concerns, the recommendations students and civil society have made, and what we students are doing to see our universities close it.

Article by Samuel Stime, with content from the Stop the Institute blog


The full text of the communiqué follows.

Communiqué from SFU and UBC students who identify CIRDI as a threat to the well-being of mining-affected communities

13 November 2014

Dear members of mining affected communities beyond Canada’s borders,

As students from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) which reside on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish people, we write to warn you of a potential threat to your communities. It comes in the form of the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI), previously known as the Canadian International Institute for the Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID) and its network of partners, which we see as working for Canada-based mining, oil, and gas companies, using academics, government institutions, and NGOs to legitimate and normalize their predatory practices.

We are undergraduate and postgraduate students in public health, political science, engineering, law, education, and social work, among other careers, and, in an attempt to ally with your own efforts to protect your families, livelihoods, and futures, for the past year we have been working together to halt this institute.

The majority of the world’s mining and mineral exploration companies are headquartered in Canada, partly because Canada has mining, land tenure, tax, and libel laws that flagrantly prioritize the extractive industries’ profits above public well-being. Through diplomatic, financial, and now academic means, the Canadian federal government is rapidly encouraging the export of these laws to other countries. 

You are probably already aware of Canada’s use of diplomatic & economic means to oversee changes to mining, tax, land tenure, and environmental laws in resource-rich countries such as yours, and you are probably already experiencing the impacts. Right now in Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Mongolia and many other countries, there is environmental destruction and social upheaval as a result of Canadian extractive ‘investment’ there.

CIRDI is a fairly new institute mandated by the Canadian government to “meet developing countries’ needs for policy, legislation, regulatory development and implementation, training, technical assistance, and applied research related to their own extractive sectors,” though the majority of extraction in these countries is by Canada-based transnational mining companies that take for themselves the majority of the benefits. CIRDI is thus mandated to help lobby your governments to implement legislation that will bring more benefits to Canadian companies, and we recognize that this will come at the cost of your Indigenous and human rights, your control over domestic resources, your decision-making process at the local and national levels, and protections for your environment and your public interest. History attests to Canada’s role in undermining other countries’ sovereignty and indigenous peoples’ autonomy and self-determination for the benefit of companies incorporated here. 

CIRDI is housed at three Canadian universities, is partnered with many other universities and NGOs in Canada and elsewhere, and receives many millions of dollars of support from companies in the extractive industry (including Goldcorp Inc.) with allegations of abuse everywhere they operate. Here in Canada, we are manifesting our disapproval of our universities’ involvement with this, and that our federal government is funding it. We hope that student efforts here, in the global headquarters of mining, will constructively contribute to your communities’ resistance. 

We write to you only after performing extensive due diligence that has included

  • repeated requests for full disclosure of information about the institute, its budget and projects, and its partners,
  • clear explanations on our website of the dangers of how the institute is currently organized and mandated, and our demands for how to reorganize (or close) it,
  • multiple invitations to CIRDI executives to bear witness at student-led events challenging the predatory mining industry,
  • communication with the organizations, academics, and other groups listed on the CIRDI website as partners/collaborators,
  • and we have finally resorted to formal requests for information through BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Our requests for information and invitations to bear witness have received inadequate and limited response; it is now time to warn you. 

Because of its mandate, its organizational and financial structure that closely aligns it with transnational extractive interests, and the opacity with which it is run (consistently refusing to answer to the Canadian public), we identify CIRDI as a threat to the well-being of communities and their environment in the vicinity of mineral or hydrocarbon extraction sites where Canadian companies or their subsidiaries have an interest, and to the local, regional, and national governments’ sovereignty to make decisions on their own terms around land and resource use. The Canadian extraction paradigm holds paramount an unsustainable demand for minerals and hydrocarbons to support an insatiable consumer lifestyle, leading to unproductive arguments for the inevitability of Canadian companies’ access to the mineral wealth in your country. Under this paradigm, Canadian companies will extract your resources, and they know it will be much cheaper if they can manipulate popular opinion for a perceived “social acceptance” of their mega mining projects.

Since CIRDI is mandated by the Canadian federal government, and has many direct links to the transnational mining, mineral exploration, and hydrocarbon extraction industries, people in your country or community will easily see through the thinly veiled language of its vision to “improve the ability of developing countries to use and benefit from their extractive sector resources in order to stimulate sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty,” and will be wary to collaborate with the institute. However, CIRDI lacks legitimacy to work in a way that is actually beneficial to the host communities. So, based on the assumption that “researchers have the trust and credibility in the communities” that this industry lacks, mining companies, lobby groups on their behalf, the Canadian diplomatic corps, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD) are partnering with academics and NGOs to act as the front line of their “community engagement” work. 

Though the details of CIRDI projects are being withheld, we are aware that the Canadian government has previously funded ‘community engagement’ projects near mining sites around the world, ultimately aimed at appeasing uncooperative communities so an extractive project can advance. We have not been able to compile a comprehensive list of the names of individual researchers and NGOs yet, but the current list is available here, and will be updated as we find out more.

With this in mind, we advise you to exercise great caution when outsiders approach your community, to ask them enough questions so that your community can be sure that they (academics, NGOs, etc.) are not acting on behalf of the foreign (or Canadian) extractive firms, on behalf of CIRDI (or other groups similar to it), and will not commit your community to agreements that will bring you harm in the future.

In addition to the questions that you already ask outsiders seeking to access your territory or perform any type of ‘research’ in your community, we encourage you to seek formal (written) confirmation of where their funding comes from, what connections they have to Canadian extractive interests, what university or NGO they’re associated with, and what their motivation is. Further, we encourage you to seek input from other communities, groups, or NGOs that you trust to provide feedback on what is proposed in your community. Amnesty International, Rights Action, and MiningWatch Canada are three organizations that we are aware of that could offer third-party analysis, and all operate specifically for peoples’ and communities’ benefit.

As students in Canada, we are close to the headquarters of international exploitation, but find ourselves distant from the specific experiences of your community as you are faced with extractive projects by foreign transnational corporations. We commit to ally with your cause of sovereignty and dignity as you resist usurpation and destruction of your land and rights by foreign interests. Your feedback and histories will help us to work aligned with your objectives. Please contact us at


Concerned SFU & UBC students

The Lift to Lima: A UBC Student’s Experiences at the UN Climate Talks

It seems counter intuitive to fly to South America to sit in a military installation to negotiate climate change action, but so it goes in the world of the United Nations Climate Change negotiation process.

As a delegate of the Youth Arctic Coalition and Polar Bears International I am following the 198 parties into negotiations in Lima this week for the week 20th meeting of parties (COP20). Their task is to prepare a draft text for Advancing the Durban Platform (ADP), a binding agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions that may keep the planet from warming even further. As an advocate for arctic environments and self-determinism of its people amidst rapid change, my interest was to understand what makes these talks tick, why it has taken so long to reach a binding agreement and why this year matters more than years previous. As a graduate student in regional planning my aim was to understand the role of science in forming policy at the highest level.

The 5th report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change speaks to speed of Arctic change as, “mean Arctic sea-ice extent decreased over the period 1979 to 2012, with a rate that was very likely in the range 3.5 to 4.1% per decade. Arctic sea-ice extent has decreased in every season and in every successive decade since 1979, with the most rapid decrease in decadal mean extent in summer (high confidence)”. According to science, most of this sea ice change was caused by our consumption, industrializing, modernizing, flying around the world to climate talks etc.

Newly formed sea ice off Cape Churchhill, Manitoba. PHOTO:CJ Carter

Newly formed sea ice off Cape Churchhill, Manitoba. PHOTO:CJ Carter

Polar bears, reliant on a sea ice platforms to hunt in shallow waters, are not faring well either. Polar Bear International chief scientist Steven Amstrup has documented a decline in  polar bear populations over time. A recent paper published in the Journal of Ecological Applications by fellow scientists notes, “we already see a decline in the body condition and total population of polar bears, especially in the South Beaufort Sea. At current trends, Arctic sea ice – will be nearly gone by 2100. By 2050, polar bears will likely be gone as well.”

PBI research buggy one at work in the South Hudson bay population. PHOTO: CJ Carter

PBI research buggy one at work in the South Hudson bay population. PHOTO: CJ Carter

Meanwhile, human settlements in the Arctic are already feeling the impact of shorter hunting seasons and a trending increase in extractive industry interest. Indigenous elders in Alaska have referred to the change as “a friend acting strangely.” Ice free summers have already yielded a three-fold increase in arctic shipping activity. Most adaptation projects in Arctic communities today focus on retaining the subsistence food livelihoods that remain and reducing the exposure to larger storm surges, higher seas and the potential contamination from a marine oil spill.

We understand what is at stake and why action at the highest political level matter, but entering the complex of circus-like tents, portable buildings and hundreds of negotiators from around the world in suits of all makes and models it is easy to lose sight.

Entering a negotiation session is like taking a dive into an alphabet soup with acronyms like INDCS, LDS, SIDS and the ADP flying through the air. Lost yet? With dialogue focused on responsibilities of the developed (generally big greenhouse gas emitters) and the developing (generally low greenhouse gas emitters) world, it is hard to see where exactly the future Arctic is represented outside of its respective national and central governments. Do the hundreds of negotiators and organizations present know the rate of change that the Arctic’s 13 million residents and delicate sea ice habitats are undergoing?

Curbing the earth’s warming to 2 degrees centigrade is at the core of where science meets mitigation policy here. This is understood to be a threshold for ecological systems and even some built infrastructure.  A unified effort to reduce emissions at this level will make major strides to keep polar bears around and reduce further risk in communities of the north.The goal for this summit is to have a draft binding agreement ready for COP 21 in Paris; this will have a positive impact on sea ice habitat and  human settlements in Arctic regions.


While climate negotiations at this level have been ongoing for decades, it has has yet to produce any binding agreements. However, achieving a binding agreement at this level will set the tone at the highest scale and will reaffirm that nations around the world take climate change mitigation and action seriously. As of today, high level dialogues have begun. With China and the United States, the world’s biggest GHG emitters, at the table for the first time in years, ambitious action is possible. As now full rooms of negotiators, review and discuss documents, notably the ADP, line by line, make their positions known and critique words like [shall/should ]for hours, the pace is slow but hopefully steady.

Subtleties. PHOTO: CJ Carter

Subtleties. PHOTO: CJ Carter

As an NGO observer thus far, I have done a lot of watching, listening and learning. I have been able to offer a few small insights in climate adaptation working groups with the congress of indigenous peoples and Small Island Developing States namely around social vulnerability and UNDRIP best practices amidst climate change in coastal regions. Namely they are working to develop robust language around consent and human rights protection and impact in Advancing the Durban Platform (Mitigation) and the Nairobi Work Plan (Adaptation). Learning from these groups and watching the negotiations I hope to walk away with an understanding of how people find shared value and make good action policy.

At smaller scales, cities, researchers, designers, families and individuals can make major contributions to keeping polar regions cool, especially in the resource consuming global north. While I opted for a lift to Lima Peru in a 757 aircraft (last minute) over a multi-month bike tour (preferred) what I am learning is how policy is crafted and the power paradigms at play and how voices of the under-represented and often most impacted can be heard. It has been very informative. In a time of rapid change in the Arctic, active dialogue and a timely agreement at this level to curb warming and fund adaptation counts, even if it takes a flight.

Figueres at work with the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. PHOTO: CJ Carter

Figueres at work with the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. PHOTO: CJ Carter

Want to get involved? Sign our petition to protect addressed to UN Executive Secretary Figueres here.

This article originally appeared on the author’s blog.

#ReasonsToResist at UBC: Fossil Fuel and Mining Investments

This is Part Three of a series from The Talon on Reasons to Resist at UBC. See Part One: Tuition and Housing here, and Part Two: Finance and Labour here.

The focus of this series is to reflect and extend the current state of activism on campus, by evidencing yet more potential issues related to financial and negotiating power at the University. It is by no means intended to cover all legitimate grievances, and even in the areas on which it focuses, it should be taken as nothing more than what it is: the angry research of a debt-encrusted grad student.

Since it has unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, come to pass that the UBC Board of Governors (BoG) has approved a 10% international tuition increase, I should first take a moment to address Board Chair John Montalbano’s statement: “We must vote in a manner that is in the best interests of the [U]niversity.”

Assuming the rest of the provincially appointed Board members agree with him (by design, a majority of the Board) and vote as a block for the “best interests of the University,” that makes a potential voting block of the student, faculty, and staff voices on the Board (by design, a minority) functionally obsolete by indirect admission of the Board Chair. If the appointed Board members always vote in the University’s best interest, not only will the University always win, but they’ve also indirectly admitted that the concerns of the students, faculty, and staff are not the concerns of the University. This sounds like a reason to occupy an office, if I ever heard one.

Now, to the thrust of this article: Considering the recent resistance to pipeline surveying and mine drilling on unceded Indigenous lands; and the resulting injunctions against protesters despite Kinder Morgan’s notnecessarilylegal work and Imperial Metal’s shoddy cover-up, with assistance from the BC government, of a predictable tailings pond spill for which we have to pay; and the email from a UBC Forestry staff member using faulty legal advice to warn international students they could be expelled and deported by risking arrest for protesting; and the roughly 100 unenforceable arrests and thrown-out civil contempt of court charges by the RCMP who relied on the oil company for legal interpretation of a court order with faulty GPS coordinates, AND such pipeline resistance being somewhat co-opted by those with highly questionable, political motives; I think it’s very important to take a look at how UBC’s investments, both in finances and human resources, don’t always match its vocal, on-going dedication to sustainability.

The University likes to focus on how its environmental plan and efforts to construct new buildings to high energy standards help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from campus, but as a larger institution, UBC is responsible for all of its efforts and investments. So when hypocritical actions and rhetoric emerge in a public institution like ours, it’s somewhat easy to question if the right hand knows what the left is doing. But this only detracts from the fact that the same people are benefitting from the green, sustainable rhetoric as are benefitting from the oil-slick money it hides.

Fossil Fuel and Mining Investments

Reason #63. In a 2013 responsible investment planning FAQ, UBC answered “How much does the University invest in the oil and gas sector?” [emphasis added] by saying it doesn’t directly invest in companies, but in pools of funds run by “external managers,” beyond the University’s direct control. They also stated “At various times, the funds in which UBC’s Endowment is invested include a number of companies in the oil and gas sector.” They give no actual indication of “how much” they invest in these companies, however.

Luckily, someone has done the math, so let’s unpack what it means.

Reason #64. For every 1 tonne of CO2 equivalent that UBC releases into the atmosphere, the energy and mining companies UBC has been found to help fund through its endowment investments release 9 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Reason #65. In fact, UBC directly profits from this environmental degradation through these investments to the tune of roughly $27 million a year. This is because its wholly-owned subsidiary Investment Management Trust Inc. (IMANT), the people deciding who those aforementioned “external managers” are, manages about $100 million worth of dirty energy investments, about 10% of UBC’s approximately $1 billion endowment fund.

Reason #66. These investments sit with fossil fuel companies known for a wide range of pollution, labour, maintenance, and legal issues like Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Halliburton (yes, that very Halliburton), Kinder Morgan, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Phillips 66, Spectra Energy, Sunoco, Apache Corporation, Chesapeake Energy, as well as dozens of other lesser known oil companies.

Reason #67. This does not take into account UBC’s $1.15 billion staff pension plan (p. 20), similarly managed by IMANT, which has a comparable 12-13% of its infrastructure investments in electric and gas, 31% of its property investment in industrials, and 25% of their equity investments in industrials and energy (p. 23-25). As far as I’m aware, it is still unknown what amount of these investments lie in fossil fuel or mining companies.

Reason #68. After much recently growing pressure from student groups and climate activists for North American universities to divest from fossil fuel funds, UBC finally approved a responsible investment protocol in 2014 that includes a list of five (quite steep) requirements for divestment from a fund, via the (totally not rigged, they swear) BoG. If you only read UBC’s announcement of the new policy, however, you would have no idea divestment is even a possibility because, despite being the most significant change from the policy adopted a year prior, it isn’t mentioned in President Toope’s news release. It also paints the adoption of the new policy (which only came after months of shaming from activists in the media) as work by the “Board [of Governors] to provide positive leadership.”

Reason #69. The April 2014 announcements of new investing policies might have been silent on divestment because, in that previous planning for a responsible investment policy in 2013, “leaders in the responsible investment field” found divestment less favorable than a policy of “[environmental, social, and governance] principles and engagement with companies to improve performance.” This favours the status quo of current investments over the alleged costs of divesting from any problematic funds, even giving a three year window for fund managers to incorporate environmental, social, and governance principles into their portfolios. It’s also important to note that a discussion with experts to determine a responsible investment policy did not begin until 2010.

Reason #70. BC university faculty and students don’t want their schools profiting off fossil fuels. 66% of UVic faculty want their university to divest from fossil fuel funds. 71% of SFU faculty want their university to divest from fossil fuel funds. 77% of UBC students want their university to divest from fossil fuel funds. UBC faculty will hold a referendum over late January and early February on whether they will likewise call for the administration to divest.

Reason #71. Even ignoring the environmental responsibility, evidence shows (p. 9) it’s likely more profitable for investments anyway to divest from these funds. Portfolios without fossil fuel funds perform better, and avoid the risks of the sometimes volatile fossil fuel market and any potential carbon market bubble.

Reason #72. And even if they claim a financial alibi, UBC is directly contributing to at least some of the massive issues affiliated with the Canadian resource extraction industry at home and abroad, through its participation in the Canadian International Institute for the Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID), a federally-formed think tank. The CIIEID is very controversial, to say the least, and solidifies working partnerships between higher education and powerful, disproportionately Canadian extractive industries with harmful practices and little-to-no international legal oversight. Vancouver specifically, and Canada generally, continue to be havens for international mining conglomerates to avoid legal and financial responsibilities to the countries from which they extract these resources, and universities like ours directly feed this destructive cycle.

Reason #73. “UBC is working to explore and exemplify all aspects of economic, environmental and social sustainability.” But they have yet to adopt a responsible investment policy that avoids fossil fuel funds, and they remain committed to professional and industry development programs that contribute to mining and other resource extraction efforts.

Reason #74. On their pay-to-print service, UBC now shows students a graph of how many trees they are killing and grams of carbon they are emitting by printing what they are required to for their education. While assumedly an act to raise social consciousness around resource consumption, it effectively shames students for environmental degradations largely beyond their control, short of direct action. The University’s large-scale, institutional contributions to environmental degradation through its various forms of investments are well beyond what its nowhere near paperless campus could be responsible for.

There certainly is a #RippleEffectUBC, one contributing to our rich local history of greenwashing and the continual displacement and destruction caused by the resource extraction industries and neoliberal market economics for which it covers. Despite the University’s claims of leadership, backed by incredible resources with which they could exercise said leadership, they must continually be shown the way forward by activists and organizers paving the way for them. UBC has massive blank-spots in its rhetoric that serve its institutional financial interests, but student activists must hold the University accountable. It claims to be an agent of change for sustainability and spreading it to the larger world, while continuing to help fund and provide labour to perpetuate its destruction. 

When mining companies like Goldcorp use the auspices of “Responsible Mining” to invest millions into our Mineral Research Deposit Unit, our Earth Systems Science Building, or a Women in Engineering initiative, the University and its students become indebted to companies and industries wholly designed to profit from the continued destruction of our environment. SFU doesn’t have a Goldcorp Centre for the Arts out of the generosity of a mine manager’s heart. UBC’s Goldcorp Inc. Teaching and Learning Wing isn’t an investment in students’ futures as much as it’s an investment in Goldcorp’s future. These are institutional investments to secure the field-specific knowledge base and specialized labour necessary to expand resource extraction.

If we accept the drastic climate science predictions as fact, then it is wholly irresponsible to not rapidly investigate and implement as many drastic plans as possible to divest from and shut down the industries causing this issue. Instead, due in part to cut government funding, it seems many universities feel they can’t turn down any corporate gift. This isn’t the case everywhere.

If you have something that should be added to this list, spread it on Facebook or Twitter with #ReasonsToResist, or just all over campus with old-school flyers, wheatpaste, or tags. Or, stuff executive and administrator mailboxes with reasons why you don’t condone their actions.

3 Talon-Approved Events: Dec. 8-15


1. Save the Sacred Headwaters Fundraiser

“An evening of music, speakers, food and discussion” presented by Beyond Boarding in support of the Klabona Keepers in Tl’abane (Sacred Headwaters), located in the north-west of the province. The Klabona Keepers are a group of Tl’abanotin elders and families who have been defending the area around the source of three critical salmon-bearing rivers(the Stikine, the Skeena, and the Nass) and a unique ecosystem which has recently become subject to “an onslaught of gas fracking, mining development, and resident hunting issues“ as a result of de-regulation by the BC government. “We all live downstream. For the wellbeing of their families and communities, thousands of people depend on the fresh water that originates from the Headwaters and feeds downstream water systems with salmon, trout and a myriad of wildlife.” Come out to support the Klabona Keepers

Tuesday, December 9, 7pm

Unitarian Church Of Vancouver, 949 West 49th Avenue, Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories


2. The No-Way Cabaret: Legal Benefit and Spirit Raiser for Burnaby Mountain Land Defenders

Billed as a fundraiser for the Burnaby Mountain Legal Defence fund and a celebration for those who fought (and continue to fight) against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline on Burnaby Mountain. Poetry (from Stephen Collis and others), along with readings, performance, music, visual art and a #kmface photo-booth will be featured at this event.

Friday, December 12, 7pm

UNIT/PITT Projects, 236 East Pender St, Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories


3. Transportation not Deportation!

A vigil for Lucia Vega Jiménez’s and a demonstration against the Transit Police collaboration with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Last year, Transit Police reported Jiménez to the CBSA after she was found riding the SkyTrain without a fair. After being detained under immigration law, she committed suicide while awaiting deportation. The event post reads: “In total three hundred and twenty eight people were reported to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) by Transit Police last year, one in five of whom faced a subsequent immigration investigation, which suggests that the other four were simply racially profiled.”

Sunday, December 14, 4pm

Main Street Skytrain Station, Main St and Terminal Ave, Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories

The Legacy of December 6 at UBC: Moving Forward

Trigger warnings: Misogynistic Violence, Murder, Suicide, Mental Illness, Slurs

Note: This is being published today, instead of actually on Dec 6, as to leave time for reflection, and concentrate on moving forward.

Twenty-five years ago, as of December 6, 14 young women, most of them engineering students, were killed. Their names were Genevieve Bergeron, Helene Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair , Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte. The last fatality was the gunman, Mark Lepine.

It’s not a mystery why these women were gunned down in the middle of lecture. Lepine said it, and wrote it down. He killed 14 women in engineering because he hated feminists. Survivor Natalie Provost stated, “He told us he was there because we were feminists and I just replied that we were not feminists, that we were just studying in an engineering school and that he would be able to come and study with us and then he shot (opened fire).”

His final letter stated, “Would you note that if I commit suicide today 89-12-06 it is not for economic reasons (for I have waited until I exhausted all my financial means, even refusing jobs) but for political reasons. Because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker. For seven years life has brought me no joy and being totally blasé, I have decided to put an end to those viragos.”

So, he hated feminists and planned to murder them, methodically. This much is explicitly clear.

Twenty-five years later, Elliot Rodger stated, “I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would’ve all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them…I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male…”

Two parallel cases, 25 years apart. Men who hate women, men who kill women. They said it, they wrote it down, and they made it their mission. But we’re still ready to make excuses, choosing to pay attention instead to gun control, or mental health.

A few days ago Justice Minister Peter MacKay said, in the House of Commons, “This week, we remember the horrific events that took place in Montreal at École Polytechnique 25 years ago, and while we may never understand what occurred — why this happened, why these women were singled out for this horrific act of violence, we have to stand together.”

We do know why it happened, and why women were singled out. It’s critical that we understand this, in order to move forward and make postsecondary a safe place for women in engineering, and elsewhere.

I talked to three women: Hannah Barath, a co-op student at Access and Diversity, Jeanie Malone, the VP Communications at the Engineering Undergraduate Society, and an anonymous commenter to reflect on the way UBC commemorates this day of Canadian history, how we’re moving forward on campus, and what’s left to be done.

Jeanie and Hannah mentioned the numerous ways UBC honours Dec 6, the anniversary of the tragedy, but also the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Multiple campus organizations come together to host events and memorials in commemoration. Access and Diversity co-ordinated this years panel discussion, candlelight vigil in the Students Union Building, and hosted passive campaigns that included buttons and flyers. The Engineering Undergraduate Society hosted their annual “14 Not Forgotten” memorial ceremony in joint with Women in Engineering, Alpha Omega Epsilon, Eng.Cite, and Westcoast Women in Engineering Science and Technology (WWEST).

As well, the EUS worked with UBC Campus and Community Planning to construct a memorial garden and courtyard. It’s located between the Engineering Design Centre (EDC) and the Civil and Mechanical Engineering (CEME) building, and is intended as, Jeanie states, to be “a place of quiet reflection.” She invites all UBC Community members to visit the memorial, and take a few minutes to reflect. Hannah explains that it’s “designed in such a way that its an open space where people can gather and connect.”

Hannah emphasized the importance of using this day as a catalyst for change, not simply reflection. She said, “We want it to be a day where we can remember these 14 women and the things that have happened, but also to recognize what is going on in the present and actions we can take in the future.”

Because this wasn’t a one-off horrible event in our past. It is connected to broader themes in our society that haven’t yet disappeared. Elliot Rodger’s misogynistic violent spree took place only half a year ago. Hannah also mentioned the recent threat launched against feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, where an anonymous email promised a Montreal-style massacre, and called Mark Lepine a hero. Anon states, “I see the term ‘feminist’ evoking hesitation and even anger and mistrust today, in 2014. I’ve seen the term ‘killing feminists’ thrown around online pretty carelessly…”

We need to actively work against the types of attitudes and thoughts that led to Dec 6. We need to be respectful and self-aware, in how we talk about this legacy. Jeanie mentions that, “listening is probably one of the best ways everyone can help – we can do this by being aware, educating ourselves and others, and thinking critically about the root causes of gender-based violence.” Hannah suggests that if you do hear someone talking about the issue in a way that unfairly refocuses it away from gender-based violence, to, if it is safe for you to do so, “speak up and intervene.” She explains that there are many ways to do this, both directly and indirectly.

Furthermore, we need to be careful when talking about mental health in this context. Lepine mused that he would be written off as a “crazy gunman,” and it’s critical that we do not do this. Not only does attributing his act of violence to an unstable mind bring attention away from gender-based violence, but it does a disservice to people living with mental illness who don’t go on murder sprees. Anon states, “I think unless there is specific evidence of hallucinations, mental illness doesn’t conjure up notions that don’t already exist yet. Yes, I read that the killer was mentally unstable, but he was also a misogynist.” She states that a significant portion of society lives with mental illness, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we talk about Dec 6, we need to consider who we would be making feel comfortable in the conversation. Talking about Lepine as a mentally unwell person instead of a violent misogynist would make a student with mental illness uncomfortable, and would offer a misogynist some relief.

According to Jeanie, addressing mental health awareness, is an issue that the EUS is working on, and they aim to provide tools for student wellness- through wellness fairs and through other campus groups, like the Mental Health Network.

She emphasizes though, that, “listening, supporting, educating and working together are the best ways to help.”

Expanding from what individuals can do though, is what UBC as an institution can do. Jeanie recognizes that although engineering is becoming a more inclusive field, we aren’t yet where we need to be.

She elaborates by mentioning the EUS Inclusion project, as well as the introduction of the UBC Engineering Code of Ethics and Iron Pin ceremonies. The Code of Ethics stops short of addressing gender issues, but does have engineers pledge to, “Report any hazardous, illegal, or unethical decisions or practices by any member of our community.” She also mentions the UBC Women in Engineering group which provides resources and is open to all engineering students. She states, “they have been the driving force behind many conversations, and provide tools for students such as their seminar series. There are women in engineering groups across Canada, at industry and professional levels as well.”

From a faculty perspective, the Dean of Engineering has set a goal of having women make up 50% of engineering enrolment by 2019. This year women represented 29%.

Anon mentions, “UBC Engineering has a huge push to increase the number of women encouraged to pursue and stay in engineering,” and that although there has traditionally tended to be a very specific type of female engineering, that seems to be changing.

However, simply increasing the number of females in engineering doesn’t make it a safer place. Back to the importance of speaking up, Hannah brought up The Really? Campaign at UBC. It aims to ‘change the script’ by encouraging people to intervene when people are voicing demeaning comments, or offensive jokes. Disrupting people with something as simple as, “Really?” can be influential in what people internalize as ‘okay’ or ‘not okay.’

To properly remember, learn from, and honour this day, we need to recognize it to what is was (violence specifically directed at women/feminists), speak out it in those terms (not derail the conversation), be respectful (to female engineers and people with mental illness), and take concrete steps to move forward. In terms of concrete steps, I quote Veronica Knott, the president of the UBC Engineering Undergraduate Society, in steps that we can take:

1) Remember the women and read their stories. Short summaries can be found here:

2) Take time to reflect on what this means to you and how this effects [sic] you. I recommend visiting the new memorial in the EDC Courtyard.

3) Men: Get involved with the White Ribbon Campaign whether it is taking their pledge or just learning from their resources:

4) Students: Get involved on your campus, attend memorial events, and start the discussion. UBC Students a great place to start is with Access & Diversity:

5) Engineering Societies across Canada: Think, evaluate and understand all the actions you take – especially in a field still dominated by men. How can engineering societies lead the change.

6) Engineers: Get involved with Engineers Canada and their pledge for 30% by 2030. Get involved with your regional organizations of professional associations and they work they do, in BC, get involved with DAWEG. Get involved with your faculties and their work to attract more women into the engineering degree.

7) My personal favourite, is get involved with the NSERC Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering. They are all doing amazing work. In BC this is Westcoast Women in Engineering Science and Technology (WWEST). I also want to highlight a program I think is doing amazing work at setting this message and it’s ‪#‎Impact25‬, a program run by the NSERC Chair for WiSE in Ontario, asking members to pledge their impact for the next 25. Read them here:

Social Justice Synonyms #11: “OCD” and “Bipolar”

Welcome to the eleventh segment of Social Justice Synonyms, a column at The Talon that discusses harmful and oppressive language embedded in our culture and provides ways to unlearn this language.

This week’s words are OCD and bipolar.

The terms “OCD” (short for obsessive-compulsive disorder) and “bipolar” are both medical terms used to describe mental illnesses. The DSM IV-TR defines a person living with OCD as someone who has “recurrent compulsions and/or obsessions”, where obsessions are intrusive and unreasonable thoughts, and compulsions are repetitive behaviours often carried out to neutralize these obsessions. Although the portrayals of OCD in the media often include compulsions related to checking, contamination, and organization, there are in fact many different types of compulsions resulting from feelings of fear, guilt, and anxiety that are unique to the person experiencing them. These compulsions can either be carried out externally (eg. repetitively jumping up and down) or internally (eg. counting to 500 in your head). A person who carries out their compulsions almost exclusively internally is living with a type of OCD called “Purely Obsesessional” or “Pure-O” OCD. Medical practice and research centre Mayo Clinic defines the term bipolar as a “psychiatric illness characterized by manic and/or depressive episodes”, and includes four different types of the disorder: type 1, where the individual experiences episodes of mania and depression in week-long periods; type 2, where the periods of depression outweigh the manic cycles, and the highs are less extreme; cyclothymia, which is a more mild form of the disorder, but also the fastest cycling; and bipolar disorder not otherwise specified, where the individual falls somewhere in between these various diagnoses.

Like “crazy,” “OCD” and “bipolar” have been widely misappropriated to become ableist terms. In colloquial language, the word bipolar is used to describe someone experiencing mood swings, either as an insult or descriptor of a negative quality. For example, you might hear someone saying that their teacher is “so bipolar” after getting angry in class, or referring to themselves as “bipolar” for experiencing moodiness. Although these traits may resemble the media’s portrayal of a person living with bipolar disorder, these usages of the word are reductive, offensive, and incorrect. A person who is bipolar does not simply “have mood swings,” but experiences manic and depressive episodes that can last for extended periods of time. These periods of mania and depression are much more intense than periods of happiness or sadness that a person without bipolar disorder may feel. Popular Healthline writer, Brian Krans, describes his experience with  mania as a period filled with plenty of energy where he becomes extremely optimistic, talkative, and sociable. He describes the period of depression as one where he “wants everyone to disappear” because the smallest details annoy him, and “seeing all those people carrying on… is an annoying reminder” of his bipolar disorder. He then goes on to describe the period in between these manic and depressive episodes, which he names “the middle”, as one in which doesn’t feel like “running around” or like “a mopey, lazy slug.”

Similarly, “OCD” is used in mainstream culture to describe either a “quirky trait” that someone may have or extreme habits regarding things such as cleanliness and organization. For example, someone might refer to themselves as “so OCD” for liking to keep their room tidy, or for making punctuality a priority. While these are traits that may appear in an individual living with OCD, the difference is that for a person without OCD these are simply preferences, whereas for an individual living with OCD who experiences compulsions, they are repetitive behaviours carried out to reduce the anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts (eg. “My mom will die if I don’t clean my room”). These intrusive thoughts are based on anxiety the person may be experiencing, regarding schoolwork, social situations, illness, death, or anything else relevant to their experiences.

The misappropriation of these terms in colloquial language serves to belittle the illnesses that the terms refer to, as well as those living with them. The illnesses are belittled in that they are likened to behaviours that are, in fact, not a result of mental illness, but simple personality quirks that are highly common. Although persons living with OCD and bipolar disorder are often high functioning individuals, many have at some point felt debilitated by their diseases, or have encountered feelings of distress, depression, and alienation. In contrast, a person without mental illness who has a mood swing, or enjoys being punctual, does not have to live with these same symptoms. This type of misappropriation can prevent someone living with mental illness from speaking up or reaching out for help since they might fear not being taken seriously or being met with ignorance. This is especially poignant due to the invisible nature of these diseases.

Below are a few synonyms that you can use to replace these words in your vocabulary:

Use / Context Alternatives
“My mom is so bipolar today” “My mom is being really unreasonable”
“I’m so OCD about cleanliness” “I like keeping my room clean”
“My brother is so OCD about his work schedule” “My brother likes to get to work on time”
“I’m feeling so bipolar this weekend” “I’ve been having mood swings this weekend”
“My boyfriend went completely bipolar” “My boyfriend changed his mind”

The Four Pillars Revisited: A Look at Vancouver Drug Policy

In 2001, after much campaigning by activists, academics and public health officials, Vancouver’s municipal council approved the boldest, most progressive drug policy in North America: A Framework For Action: A Four-Pillar Approach to Vancouver’s Drug Problems.

The Four Pillars‘ philosophy was simple but revolutionary: the government should lessen the harms associated with drug use, even if those drugs are illegal. The document made 36 recommendations, including heroin prescription, methadone maintenance and supervised injection.

However, the Four Pillars was passed over 13 years ago. Where do they stand today? This is our 5-part investigative series, The Four Pillars Revisited, produced in partnership with The Tyee, podcasted on iTunes and syndicated on campus radio stations at the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.

The Four Pillars Revisited is written and produced by Gordon Katic and Sam Fenn–hosts of UBC’s The Terry Project on CiTR. You can subscribe to The Terry Project on CiTR program on iTunes to hear more programming just like this.

Part 1: The Four Pillars Revisited

Prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement—Vancouver’s four pillars. It’s the most progressive drug plan of any city in North America. But its authors fear that the pillars are crumbling.

(Click here to read more on The Terry Project) 

Part 2: Prevention

Do you remember DARE? It’s a drug education program, but researchers say that it doesn’t work because it exaggerates the harms of drug use. We profile people who say we need to try something new: tell kids the truth.

(Click here to read more on The Terry Project) 

Part 3: Treatment

When somebody decides that it’s time to kick drugs, who is there to help them? In this explosive expose, we explore BC’s chronically underfunded drug treatment scene. From its unregulated flop houses and questionable pharmacists to its dogmatic treatment providers.

(Click here to read more on The Terry Project) 

Part 4: Harm Reduction

An activist named Ann Livingston signs a lease for a bubble tea cafe in the heart of the busiest drug market in suburban Vancouver. Ann has one goal: invite the drug users in and start a political movement. She wants The Bubble Helping Centre to be that movement’s headquarters. But how will the neighbourhood and local politicians react to their new neighbours?

(Click here to read more on The Terry Project) 

Part 5: Enforcement

The authors of Vancouver drug policy always wanted to end the ‘War on Drugs’ but they made a compromise. While their fight against prohibition has stalled, Seattle is forging ahead. Will Seattle’s compromise get any closer?

(Click here to read more on The Terry Project) 

This article was cross-posted from The Terry Project with permission. 

violence on the land, violence on our (student) bodies

this redwood tree is wearing a protective covering because it was literally beaten to a pulp. on our campus. by ubc students.


the tree, which stands on the north side of the first nations longhouse, is long known to some students as “the punching tree”. one blogger even advised the world wide web that, “you can punch it as hard as you like and you won’t hurt yourself!”

but what about the tree? after several years of beatings, the tree sustained so much damage that ubc building operations was finally forced to take action. this spring, they erected a plastic chain link fence around the tree to stop students from punching it. however, in the fall they wrapped the tree in this protective covering, because the fence wasn’t doing its job. students continued to punch the tree, stepping right over the bendy plastic fence to do so.


i had the pleasure of encountering two such students. after watching them trample over the fence to lay their fists on the tree, i approached them. in my calmest tone, i asked what they were doing, and why.

looking like they had just discovered some magical secret, they wanted to know, had i tried punching the tree? because it was great!

staying calm but delivering some serious side-eye, i replied that no, i had not tried it. and i wouldn’t be trying it. did you notice the fence, i asked? how about the damage to the bark? i explained that in my way of life, the earth is to be respected and treated with kindness. in my way of life, this was an act of violence.

at that point, the students became visibly rattled. they wanted to know who i was, and why i was there, as if i was the one who was totally out of line. they promptly ended their discussion with me and walked away.

well, they weren’t the only ones who left that conversation feeling rattled. i knew for a while about the “punching tree,” but this was my first time witnessing anyone actually punching it. i was (and still am) deeply troubled by this kind of behaviour. as a nehiyaw-nahkawekwe, my elders teach me that the land is my first mother. they teach me that the land provides us with everything we need for survival, and therefore we treat it with the utmost love and respect. they teach me that the plants, the animals, the water, and the air feed me, and therefore i am of the earth.

the elders teach me that to hurt the land is to hurt myself.

these days, i walk by this tree on a regular basis and i can’t help but connect the violence enacted on this tree to the violence enacted on my fellow female students. just over a year ago, the final of six (still unsolved) highly publicized sexual assaults was reported. due to the reality of our (in)justice system, gender violence often goes unreported for reasons like victim blaming, retraumatization, and mistrust of police. so, we can guess that this occurs more frequently on our campus than police reports would suggest.

indigenous feminists have been saying for a long time that violence on the land is connected to violence on women’s bodies. women and the earth are symbolically linked, as givers of life. colonialism and patriarchy are like diseases that have sought to control both women and the earth through violence, for profit and for power. in other words, colonial violence and gender violence are intrinsically connected. indigenous women know this better than anyone else.

andrea smith (cherokee) states that gender violence is built on a male/female binary. plants defy gender binaries, and i can’t help but wonder if that makes them especially vulnerable to brutality. my cree and saulteaux ancestors did not conceptualize gender in the narrow, rigid ways that western culture tends to. to them, gender and sexuality were much more fluid. according to smith, the patriarchal settler society targeted indigenous cultures for destruction, for precisely this reason.

i also can’t ignore that this tree, now a site of violence, stands next to the first nations longhouse, the only place on our campus that is clearly marked ‘indigenous.’ just a few feet away from the tree are sacred ceremonial grounds. is it a coincidence that this is where countless students have deemed it appropriate to unleash their pent-up aggression? i think not.


colonialism and patriarchy are big, academic-y words, that represent attitudes, structures, and systems. but what do these things look like in real life? on the day that i witnessed the tree punching, these concepts looked to me like two typical ubc students, both oozing with a sense of entitlement.

as long as colonialism and patriarchy go on uninterrupted in our individual and collective thoughts, words, and actions, we will see violence on our campus. this violence will be asymmetrically perpetuated against marginalized communities, the land, and nonhuman beings, as it is everywhere else.

this is why i am happy whenever i see students taking action to disrupt these systems, and when i see faculty and administrators empower students to take these kinds of actions. i am grateful to all those folks taking a stand against the kinder morgan pipeline, not far from the sfu campus. and i am inspired by the many indigenous folks and women i know, who refuse to be victims of violence. instead, they are warriors who demonstrate resilience for future generations.

as for the “punching tree,” i think it is so generous that it continues to give us air to breathe, in spite of how it has been treated. did you know that when a redwood dies or is cut down, a new one sprouts from its roots? like the source of my ancestral strength, its roots never die. it is a survivor, too.