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Illustration by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

Editorial: How It All Hangs Together

Written by
Nick Taylor
and
and
June 14, 2021

Editors' Note: This article mentions that at the time of publication, the ceasefire over Gaza was holding. On June 15th, one day after this article was published, the Israeli military resumed airstrikes in Gaza.

Stories are wide. The project of journalism, then, is to assess their width -- to measure, to vivisect and deconstruct, and present the most meaningful pieces to the audience. Sometimes, what is better than what makes it to press, are the stories behind the stories.

Editorial: How It All Hangs Together
Illustration by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

There are stories, the stories behind them, and then there are the stories that flow forth from them -- the dominoes and the butterfly wing flaps. I don’t know much about chaos theory (the idea that underneath our most random, chaotic, and complex systems, there are patterns, fractals, repetition, and feedback loops) but what I do know, I have learned in journalism, not mathematics. For this reason, I am using this editorial to unwind a few threads, and hopefully by the end of it, weave them all together again. 

One of my favourite stories this year was written by Irene Suvillaga about a mural the TCSA commissioned in late 2019 that was swiftly destroyed because it was found to be in violation of their lease agreement with the University. Daniel Crawford, one of the artists who worked on the mural, said that he imagines the energy of this painting seeping “through the eggshell white paint covering them to whisper dreaming thoughts to people I will never meet.” 

And while journalism rarely whispers, I tell myself something similar about the work we’ve been doing at Arthur: that the stories we tell can have unending and unknowable impacts, that we are always in dialogue with some future reader. Running an independent student paper (at a university that doesn’t really have a J-school) feels like we are building a bridge one plank at a time, hoping that it will be strong enough to bear the weight of those who follow behind us. 

This hypothetical Arthur-reader is much quieter than the pre-pandemic, in-print readers that would sometimes accost me at the Only, where I’d have to listen to some litany of either complaint or excitement, before sheepishly reminding them that I am not on the clock. These days, I find myself daydreaming about streetside altercations, about someone stopping me to say something about something we published, even if unkind. I miss all the ways that a newspaper can serve as a public square, as a catalyst to conversations that would otherwise go unhad. 

I think part of what makes this such a strange time to be doing journalism is that it remains bound by time, (and all our imperfect measurements for it) but it has never been less bound by space. In the past year, Arthur has been run out of a bedroom on George Street, our familiar Sadleir House office, and a lecture hall in Traill College. Our writers have conducted interviews over email and Zoom, have scoured the internet for viable images in lieu of in-the-field photographs, and have done all aspects of the job without ever having a face-to-face conversation with anyone they work with. Some staff gave new meaning to foreign correspondence, working from other timezones and continents. Brazil and I have been continually impressed by the passion and resilience it has taken our team to persist in story-telling and information-sharing. 

Dr. Valentina Azarova, drawn by Brazil Gaffney-Knox

Here’s one of the stories that never made it to press: In September of 2020, the University of Toronto started making waves in the Canadian post-secondary sphere when they rescinded a job offer for the director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP). The decision was allegedly made at the behest of an alumnus, David Spiro, who is also a sitting judge and a donor to the school. The candidate, Dr. Valentina Azarova (the unanimous choice for U of T Law Faculty’s hiring committee), has been vocal about Israeli human rights abuses in Palestine throughout her career, and it is believed that these are the grounds on which her offer of employment was rescinded. If this is true, it would mean a human rights scholar was denied employment for promoting Palestinian human rights. 

More than one faculty member resigned in the wake of the decision, citing “serious concerns about the abuse of process, improper external influence, and academic freedom.” In October, U of T named former Trent President, Bonnie Patterson, as the adjudicator in an impartial review of the hiring process for Director of the IHRP. This was the second decision made by U of T President Meric S. Gertler and Dean Edward Iacobucci that would result in pushback from the surrounding community.

That’s because Bonnie Patterson is no stranger to controversy either. Gertler wrote that “[Patterson’s] reputation as a wise and impartial academic colleague makes her ideal to conduct this impartial review,” which is a wonderful thing to say about a colleague, but falls short of articulating the polarity of Patterson’s reputation. A letter co-authored by several law professors at U of T details their concerns about Patterson’s appointment: 

“While President of Trent, President Patterson was herself the subject of a CAUT [Canadian Association of University Teachers] investigation into her decision not to reappoint Prof. George Nader as Principal of a college, though recommended by the appointment committee, because he opposed her intention to close colleges. President Patterson told CAUT that an investigation into ‘Dr. Nader’s failure to be reappointed to a managerial position would be neither appropriate nor useful.’ The investigation found that her decision violated academic freedom. She is now tasked with investigating whether a decision by the Dean of Law not to appoint to a non-faculty position the unanimous choice of the hiring committee violates academic freedom. We believe her prior involvement as the subject of a very similar complaint makes the decision to choose her inappropriate.” 

This letter was part of a community-coordinated effort to have Patterson removed from this position. One of the lawyers working on this reached out to Arthur in search of an article published about Bonnie during her time at Trent. I scoured the archive, found it, and sent it along. I’ve never met Bonnie, but I am familiar with her work.

Bonnie Patterson, drawn by Brazil Gaffney-Knox

Eventually Bonnie Patterson would resign from adjudicating this case because professors, alumni, and students felt her role in the investigation compromised its efficacy. Dean Edward Iacobucci would also resign in December 2020. There was also an investigation into whether Judge Spiro’s actions constituted misconduct, which concluded he had made a ‘serious error,’ but not one that was worth his termination. Gertler would go on to appoint former Supreme Court Justice Thomas A. Cromwell to the case, who in March of this year, ruled that external influence played no role in the decision to rescind Dr. Azarova’s offer of employment. 

On April 22, The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) made a rare decision to censure the University of Toronto, arguing that “the decision to cancel Dr. Valentina Azarova’s hiring was politically motivated, and as such constitutes a serious breach of widely recognized principles of academic freedom.” 

This is a big deal. The University of Toronto has made some grave errors, repeatedly failing to uphold their obligations around confidentiality and academic freedom, instead succumbing to the interests of capital, and wealthy alumni. There is enough going on here to almost forget that what lies at the heart of this story is the recognition of Palestinian human rights.

In May, human rights scholars again turned their attention to Jerusalem and Gaza, as the Israeli government raided mosques, continued large-scale displacement efforts in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and launched intense air raids over Gaza that killed over 230 Palestinians before a ceasefire was called on May 21. The Israeli death toll over this same period was 12. 

The media coverage of this most recent iteration of the ongoing violence in the region has taken a notable departure from established ways of covering the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In an article published by the Intercept, Murtaza Hussain writes about how social media has changed how the world understands this narrative: “Rather than reading relatively controlled textual accounts in the morning paper the next day, ordinary people the world over witnessed the violent scenes blow-by-blow.” 

One moment amidst these recent Israeli air strikes that captivated the attention of a global audience was the complete levelling of a building home to a number of offices belonging to Al-Jazeera and the Associated Press, as well as over 60 residential apartments. When the owner of the building, Jawad Mahdi, pleaded with the IDF to allow for more time for media workers to retrieve valuable equipment and archival content, the IDF refused, saying they’d already afforded them an hour to evacuate the building. Mahdi told them, “You have destroyed our life’s work, memories, life. I will hang up, do what you want. There is a God.” Later, the Isreali Defence Forces (IDF) would claim that the building was targeted because of “military interests of the Hamas intelligence” -- which Al Jazeera reports is a common line used to justify Israeli missiles. 

The bombing of al-Jalaa tower in Gaza City, drawn by Brazil Gaffney-Knox

Mohammed El-Kurd, a writer and activist from occupied Jerusalem, has been detailing the actions of the Israeli government and military as they unfold around him, including the IDF’s continued harassment of Palestinian journalists. 

In the West, spurred on by the social media’s incessant documentation of these atrocities, there have been many conversations about the way mainstream media corporations cover the conflict in a way that minimizes the harms being perpetrated by Israel, construing apartheid as ‘clashes’, land-grabbing and dispossession as ‘real estate disputes’, etc. In Canada, the focal point of this discourse has been an open letter written and circulated by Canadian journalists who wanted to speak out against the glaring pro-Israel bias pervasive throughout industry, and style guides that refuse to acknowledge the existence of Palestine. 

The mainstream media of one settler-colonial state struggles to report effectively and accurately on the violence of another settler-colonial state. This story is not new, and neither is the censure of those journalists who attempt to challenge the settler-colonial status quo. Several reports emerged of journalists (at the CBC, among others) facing reprisal from their employers for having signed the open letter, with some being reassigned entirely. 

Emily Wilder, an Associated Press journalist who had been vocal in her support of Palestine on social media was fired for having allegedly contravened AP’s social media policy. In her public statement, Wilder aptly described herself as “one victim to the asymmetrical enforcement of rules around objectivity and social media that has censored so many journalists — particularly Palestinian journalists and other journalists of color — before me.”

Back in Canada, we are yet again grappling with settler-colonial atrocities, (which I will hold off on detailing because there are other articles forthcoming). Much of the country is engaged in some form of moral shock, some are taking long and hard looks at the land underneath their feet, others are grieving, still. The Catholic Church, the RCMP and the Canadian government have built some kind of blame-triangle, rife with finger-pointing and devoid of any kind of authentic accountability -- let alone an imperative for justice. 

In the wake of this discovery, many in the Ryerson University community again brought our attention to the statue of the University’s namesake, Ryerson Egerton, an architect of the residential school system. On June 6th, over one thousand demonstrators came together on Gould Street, to topple and behead the statue, which the University has since stated will not be replaced. This collective action was a powerful declaration of the values we want to carry with us into the future; an unwavering rejection of the colonial idols of past and present. 

There is a wider campaign to rename Ryerson University entirely. Here at Trent, discussions around the renaming of Champlain College have also resurfaced, with a petition circulating that calls for big changes to Trent’s own colonial symbols and nomenclature.  

While I am writing this, applications for the Director of IHRP have reopened, CAUT and many others are watching to see if U of T will right their wrongs and hire Dr. Azarova; the ceasefire in Gaza holds, residents of Sheikh Jarrah are still facing dispossession and Palestinian journalists are still being harassed by members of the Israeli military; Emily Wilder is likely still looking for another job; and a stone carving of Egerton Ryerson’s head sits on a stake at 1492 Land Back Lane. 

Stories are wide, and perhaps, as chaos theory suggests, there is a butterfly flapping its wings in Texas, causing a hurricane somewhere else. I’ve taken you on this winding lowlight reel to demonstrate the complexity and cruciality of this moment in journalism, and in post-secondary education, which makes student journalism such an interesting nexus through which to see everything around us unfold itself. 

Whether in the abstract realm of media criticism and story-telling, or on Gould Street, there is much to reckon with, and far too much resistance to all that requires our collective reckoning. I’ve been told (and believe it to be true) that ending an article or an essay with a quote is lazy, but I have been writing this editorial for far too long, and journalist Nora Loreto sums up so much, so well with these few words: “The battle over the new world has already started. We have no time to waste.” 


OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
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OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
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What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
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