Huffington Post Canada

Does the Canadian Federation of Students care about students?

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national organization composed of campus student unions, purports to organize students on a “democratic, co-operative basis.” When Guelph students wanted to hold a referendum to exit the CFS, they served the CFS with a petition asking for a referendum to be held to decertify. However, the CFS refused to schedule a referendum. Guelph’s Central Student Association (CSA) took the CFS to court, and an Ontario lower court trial judgegranted the referendum. Then 73.5 per cent of Guelph students voted to exit the CFS.The CFS alleges the results were not reliable.

Even after Guelph students overwhelmingly expressed a desire to leave, the CFS continued to challenge the democratic vote in court. They argued that signatures were not verified for the initial referendum request. The Ontario Court of Appeal judge granted the request, and remitted the matter to another trial court judge on a technicality. The appeal was granted because the original judge did not provide written reasoning for his decision.

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Huffington Post Canada

The ongoing trend of corruption in student unions

Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) are withholding student funds from the Student Association after it failed to provide audited financial statements for the 2012-2013 school year.

Universities have, on occasion, intervened and exercised their power to withhold money from student unions acting against the wishes of their membership. Student union executives typically respond with a sad attempt to take the moral high ground, repeating variations of the following: “student unions should have autonomy over their own affairs.”

The Durham and UOIT Student Association President, Peter Chinweuba, for instance, stated:

The decision is unfair as it infringes upon the autonomy of the Student Association.

The University of Guelph in 2012 stopped collecting fees for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) after students overwhelmingly rejected the organization in a referendum. Guelph’s Central Student Association (CSA) originally stood up for the result of the referendum in court, but recently decided to settle with the CFS and pay the fees. However, students were not consulted on the matter at any point, deliberations were made in secret, and a deliberate decision was taken to ignore the democratic voice of students. A few months ago, the University, concerned with the lack of consultation, conducted another survey on whether students wanted to continue paying CFS fees (again, it was overwhelmingly rejected). The CSA responded with a press release that noted the University’s position:

[…] Means that the CSA is not empowered to make a decision in our own affairs without the approval of the University administration.

This is the same flawed argument: it is not student unions who should possess this power, but it is one that should ultimately lie with the students! What a radical concept. When a student union clearly acts against the wishes of its membership, the only recourse students have is their university administration. Individual students cannot really access the courts due to issues of cost and time.

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Waterloo Region Record

[Letter] ‘No zeros’ policy a worrisome one

The Waterloo Region District School Board recently enacted a worrisome policy that places all students from Grade 7 to 12 in the region at risk.

There will be no more zero grades or penalties for late or missed assignments. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, there are apparently “many experts in the field of assessment and evaluation (who) discourage deducting marks or giving zeros for late and missed assignments” because “every assignment — whether submitted on time or late — provides evidence of learning, deducting marks for late assignments could misrepresent the student’s true level of achievement.”

Which fantasy world do these educational “experts” live in?

Encouraging an “I’ll hand it in when I feel like it” attitude will jeopardize our students’ chances in life.

As a current university student who attended high school in the region, I can attest to the important skills nurtured through deadlines, late penalties, and even zero grades. Even in the lower grades we did our homework, since no one wanted to get a zero during the homework check.

Late penalties for missed deadlines nurtured accountability: we realized that our grades would be impacted if we were not punctual, and so we focused on completing our work on time. What would happen to a student who continually showed up late to work or submitted assignments late in college?

The new policy will confuse students and give them wrong ideas. Who will care about deadlines? Rationally, if one can hand in an assignment late instead of on time, what is the point of finishing on time? There will be no incentive for students to hand in assignments early. In fact, submitting on time can seem counterintuitive for students.

If their classmates get to hand in assignments weeks late with no penalty, why should they have to work hard to finish up their essay for tomorrow?

Original post here

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Huffington Post Canada

Oath to Queen is a political question, not a legal one

Three permanent residents in Canada recently challenged the requirement to swear an oath to the Queen in order to obtain citizenship, claiming that it violated their Charter rights to free expression and religion, and that it discriminated against people of other national origins. A very similar case has, in fact, already been heard in federal court in 1994 in Roach v. Canada, where all of these claims were struck down.

Challenging Canadian citizenship laws should be done through Parliament, rather than the courts. The dispute is a political one: the appellants are, in effect, disagreeing with Canada’s political structure as a constitutional monarchy. The Head of State is the Queen, and the law requiring the oath is a statute which has been passed by Parliament (and can thus also be repealed by Parliament). However, the appellants clearly have much broader concerns and would feel stymied by any interaction with the Crown. They must certainly feel wronged by living in a country in which the Monarch’s representative must assent to all laws passed by Parliament. It is spelled out in the Constitution that the Governor General declares:

[…] according to his Discretion […] either that he assents thereto in the Queen’s name, or that he withholds the Queen’s Assent, or that he reserves the Bill for the signification of the Queen’s Pleasure.

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Guelph Mercury

Municipalities fighting good fight on cell tower locations

The rash of new cellphone towers being built across Canada has led concerned citizens and several municipalities — including Guelph — to speak out against such developments, on the grounds that they devalue property and pose potential safety risks.

The health impacts of the towers have not been widely analyzed in Canada. However, the European Parliament passed a resolution in 2009 that notes in its preamble that wireless technology emits electromagnetic fields “that may have adverse effects on human health.”

Provinces exercise exclusive power over “property and civil rights” under s. 92 (13) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which they can delegate to the municipalities, which have no constitutional status. Since cell towers are a sort of property, it would seemingly appear that provinces have jurisdiction over them. However, telecommunications has been interpreted exclusively as a federal power despite not being enumerated in the Constitution.

In the Supreme Court’s Radio Reference of 1931, a majority of the justices ruled that telecommunications is an exclusive federal power. Justice Robert Smith, for instance, decided that legislation regarding radio technologies does not deal directly with property or civil rights in the province. Since it does not fall under any enumerated ground, most of the justices found that such regulations fall under the federal government’s power, since all powers not specifically enumerated are granted to the federal government under the “residual powers” doctrine. However, two out of the five justices found that Parliament’s jurisdiction was not exclusive, since the “receiving apparatus” is a piece of equipment, or property, that must be erected within the province.

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Huffington Post Canada

Why Harper should hug his backbenchers tight

One year ago today, few would have predicted the incredible emergence of an empowered backbench resulting from an increasingly agitated Conservative caucus and an unprecedented ruling by the Speaker.

Beginning with Stephen Woodworth’s motion to re-examine the issue of the definition of a human being, a number of Harper’s Cabinet colleagues, including Jason Kenney and Rona Ambrose, supported the motion despite Harper’s wishes to vote against.

Harper noted in January that he had no intention of reopening the abortion debate; at the same time, three Conservative MPs sent a letter on official letterhead asking the RCMP to investigate abortions as “possible murders.” I’ve argued previously that Harper should have enforced collective Cabinet solidarity on this motion to remain true to his word.

MP Brent Rathgeber recently left the Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent in the House of Commons after the Government refused to support his Private Member’s Bill on public sector disclosure.

On his blog soon after resigning he noted that:

The Committee hearings (as all are) were a charade. The decisions on amendments were made by unelected staffers weeks before the Committee hearings even commenced. Compliant MPs just do what they are told by PMO staffers. That the PMO operates so opaquely and routinely without supervision is an affront to the constitutional requirements of responsible government and is also the genesis of the current Duffy/Wright debacle.

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Huffington Post Canada

How soon before we’re dependent on Google Glass?

Google Glass, the head-mounted, voice-operated smartphone headset, will likely prove revolutionary for telecommunications and mobile computing. It may even be the most significant development in mobile technology since the smartphone. It has not officially been released yet and it has already sparked interest among consumers, pundits, and analysts.

Not only will consumers have a customizable supercomputer which can be easily navigated in the palms of their hands, Google Glass will provide the opportunity to integrate the user directly with the smartphone. Sounds indicate incoming messages, which users will be able to access via voice command or touchpad.

A parody on YouTube shows two people out on a date. While the two are speaking, the male is continually distracted by various features of the Glass. He looks up her Facebook profile in an attempt to strike up a conversation, and at other times takes pictures of her. He uses voice commands, however, so the situation becomes more than a little awkward.

Yet future iterations of Glass may not even require voice commands or touch for these features to be used. Even if Google developers are not the ones who develop this feature, computer hackers will find some way to do it. Already, there are devices that can serve these functions, like the one used by Stephen Hawking. It is not unfathomable that Glass will be modded in some way not requiring voice commands, especially given that third-party apps have already been developed for Glass.

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