Councillors lobby to feature women on banknotes

Published on the Toronto Observer.

Last month Justin Trudeau reminded Canadians that “it’s 2015” when he announced that his Cabinet would be gender balanced. However, some Canadians are still not satisfied with the representation of women in Canada.

City councillors Mary Fragedakis of Toronto-Danforth and Marvin Rotrand of Snowden in Montreal have written to Finance Minister William Francis Moreneau asking that more women be featured on Canadian bank notes.

The letter is a reaction to another from Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada, indicating that more women may feature on the next series of bank notes. The councillors are hoping for a more “proactive” response from the government.

“We ask that the new government let the Bank of Canada and the Royal Mint know that promoting equality is a fundamental Canadian value,” Rotrand wrote.

No women have been featured on Canadian bank notes since the $50 bill from the 2001 Journey Series, which honoured Thérèse Casgrain and the Famous Five.

Historian and author Merna Forster has been campaigning to have more females celebrated on Canadian banknotes for years. Forster is the author of the book, 100 Canadian Heroines, and raised money for a statue of famous artist Emily Carr in Victoria, B.C.

After Casgrain and the Famous Five were removed from banknotes in 2011, Forster “felt it was necessary” to start a campaign. In 2013, Forster launched a petition with to have more women featured on Canadian money. The petition has gained more than 64,000 signatures.

Her goal is to “ensure the amazing women from Canadian history are not forgotten,” she said.

Jean Augustine, former Minister of Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, was involved with the motion that got Casgrain and the Famous Five on the old $50 bill. Augustine believes it’s important to honour the women who have contributed to Canada’s history.

“It gives credence that women are respected and acknowledged for their contributions,” Augustine said.

Augustine remarked that Trudeau’s decision to have a gender-balanced Cabinet sends a “great message” and creates role models for women. She added that it’s important that Canada’s diversity be represented in our every day lives.

“If you can’t see yourself there it becomes harder to get there,” Augustine said.

Fragedakis believes Trudeau’s decision will affect how both men and women think of females in the political sphere.

“I think it’s a signal to men in society that we’re all equal,” she commented.

When it comes to making decisions that impact everyone, Fragedakis said it’s important to have multiple perspectives.

“Gender is one aspect of diversity in our society and we have to reflect our society in it’s truest form,” she added.

England and Austrailia have already chosen some women to be the face of their currency. England is introducing a 10-pound note that will feature novelist Jane Austen and Australia has a man on one side and a woman on the other for most of it’s banknotes.

Merna also worked with to create a website where people can suggest notable Canadian women who could be featured on banknotes. There is an interactive tool that customizes an image of the $100 bill and let’s users share their suggestions.

Learn about distinguished Canadian women in the timeline here:

Inspiring quotes by powerful women. Watch the video below:

Canvasser sees job as community commitment

Published in The East York Observer and Toronto Observer.

He’s done it municipally. Now Sam Dyson is doing it federally.

“Face-to-face interaction with people is by far the most effective way to convey our message,” he said. “Most importantly (we) hear what people are concerned about.”

Sam Dyson, 23, is a campaign aide to Liberal candidate Julie Dabrusin (in the Toronto-Danforth riding) in the campaign leading up to the Oct. 19 vote. Having lived in the area all his life, Dyson also volunteered for John Tory during his mayoral campaign in 2014. Dubrusin realizes the value of her team of canvassers.

Julie Dabrusin's campaign aide, Sam Dyson

Julie Dabrusin’s campaign aide, Sam Dyson


“It’s important for them (the community) to see that I’m out there and I’m committed to working for them,” Dabrusin said.

A 2012 study from George Mason University showed that potential voters who were visited by the candidate were 20 per cent more likely to vote for that candidate. Dabrusin has been a resident of Toronto-Danforth since 1998, and she believes canvassing is the most effective way to learn what’s going on with her neighbours.

Although Dyson thinks of canvassing as simply having conversations with voters, he admits that it’s not always easy.

“Knocking on strangers’ doors can definitely be an uncomfortable feeling,” he said.

A 2001 Stanford University study showed that having door-to-door canvassing teams increased voter turnout by 7.1 percentage points compared to mail or telephone calls. However, some people don’t like to be visited by canvassers because they have already decided how they are going to vote or conversely because they have no interest in voting.

“Some people are genuinely not interested and do not want to be disturbed” Dyson said.

Beaches-East York incumbent prepares for elections

Published in the East York Observer.

“He’s a hearty looking guy,” remarked Toronto-Danforth’s Peter Tabuns of his fellow New Democratic Party member, Matthew Kellway. “He’s the kind of guy who wants to make history,” Tabuns added.

Kellway, 50, is the incumbent MP of the Beaches-East York riding after snatching it away from Liberal MP Maria Minna in the 2011 federal election. Kellway received 41.6 per cent of the votes — 5,309 more votes than Minna. Minna held the seat for nearly twenty years, a period in which the riding was “lost in the wilderness” according to Kellway.

The Beaches has been home to Kellway for nearly twenty years after growing up in Kingston. Kellway is married to Donna Kellway, a crown attorney, the couple have three children. Kellway believes that he could not do the work he does in Ottawa without the support of his family who he said “bring him the most joy.”

Kellway served as the Military Procurement critic under Jack Layton and is currently the NDP’s critic of both urban affairs and infrastructure.

At Kellway’s official campaign office opening party he acknowledged the accomplishments of his campaign team and the NDP but says that more work is needed.

“Canada won’t go orange if Beaches-East York doesn’t go orange,” Kellway stated.

In the 2011 federal election the NDPs won 103 seats in caucus–it’s highest-ever total– and Kellway believes that the NDP’s rise in popularity is proof Canadians are eager for change. Kellway criticized Stephen Harper and the Conservatives for passing bill’s c-51 and c-24, accusing the Torries of being an “alien government.”

“They (voters) don’t see themselves reflected in this government,” Kellway said.

Kellway listed the mission in Iraq and Syria, refugees, supplemental income for seniors and affordable childcare as his top priorities. It takes a lot of passion and leadership to fight for change according to Kellway and he believes the NDPs have that.

“Each and every one of us running under the NDP banner has great ambitions but these are ambitions for others and not for themselves,” Kellway elaborated.

Animal welfare speech wins Agnes Macphail award

Originally published on The Toronto Observer and in East York Observer.

For Eden Bridge-Cook winning at public speaking was only a part of the objective.

“I’m very passionate about animals,” she said, “so I was happy to share (my views) with everybody.”

Eden, a Grade 6 student at Westwood Middle School, in East York, won the 2015 Agnes Macphail Award for her speech on factory farming at the 18th edition of the contest.

Eden Bridge-Cook, winner of the 2015 Agnes Macphail speaking contest and her mother.

Eden Bridge-Cook, winner of the 2015 Agnes Macphail speaking contest and her mother.

Agnes Macphail was a suffragist, humanitarian and animal-welfare advocate. She was also the first woman to be elected to the Ontario Legislature, where she served as MPP for East York. Before becoming a politician, Macphail was a teacher.

Contestants in the public speaking contest were students in Grades 6, 7 or 8 attending schools in East York; they had previously competed and won speaking contests at their schools. The students’ speeches dealt with stigma surrounding mental illness, sexual assault and societal pressures.


Bob Lister, who co-received the Agnes Macphail Award with his wife Lis in 1998, served as the MC during the evening.

“We call it a competition, but really it’s a celebration,” Lister said.

The Listers have been co-ordinating the contest since they won it and agree that the purpose of the event is to celebrate the principles by which Agnes Macphail lived.

“She was a rebel. She was somebody who stood up for her passions and what’s what we want (the students) to do,” Lis Lister said.

She also pointed out that the contest offers the student contestants a great learning experience; it fosters their “growth and development” and it gives them confidence.

For Meghan Mackye, of G.A. Brown Middle School, a speaking contest is not the kind of competition she normally joins. Meghan is a soccer player in Grade 7 and gave a speech on the value of competitive sports. Meghan describes herself as shy and said that public speaking was a “first time thing.” Despite the novelty, however, Meghan said she enjoyed the experience.

“It was nice for me to do because it was really open,” she said.

For this year’s winner, Eden Bridge-Cook, the event was all about the speech content and dealing with the stress.

“It was really nerve wracking, but I was having a good time,” she said.

Use your smartphone, dummy

Originally published in the East York Observer

I’m sure by now  you’ve heard that technology is evil and is sure to be the cause of our down fall. Cellphones are destroying our sense of self and our way of life as we know it! With all our Facebooking, our YouTubing and our incessant finger-talking it’s a miracle any of us still know what the real world is.

But there is a lot of good cellphones can do as well.

On Tuesday Jan. 20 Jennifer De Costa was assaulted while riding a TTC bus near Don Mills Rd. and Lawrence Ave. While on the 54 Lawrence bus around 6 a.m. De Costa crossed paths crossed paths with another woman. De Costa wanted to sit next to the woman but the woman refused. When De Costa pressed on the matter, the situation worsened. The women exchanged glares and un-pleasantries but after some arguing, De Costa settled to sit in another seat.

While she sat in her seat, she remembered Toronto’s very own internet-famous meme, the TTC Leprechaun. And as Juan Hodem did, De Costa captured an image of the uncooperative passenger with her cell phone. But unlike the incident Hodem captured, De Costa’s incident only got worse. On her way off the bus, the woman who denied De Costa a seat bumped into her. This lead into a physical altercation between the two which left De Costa with a cut  on the side of her head. She also took a picture of cut and the resulting damage.

De Costa uploaded both pictures from the incident on to her Facebook account and explained the details. Friends of De Costa commented that they had seen the woman from the picture and 10 days later the police had identified her. According to De Costa, charges and a court date have been set.

This is not the only time someone has used photo or video taken with a cell phone and used it as evidence. On Feb. 17 a video emerged of a group of Chelsea Football Club supporters denying a black man entry to a train in Paris before taunting him with a racist chant.  A French journalist found the video, tracked down the man in the video, identified as Souleyman S., and now Souleyman has filed a formal complaint with the Parisian police. The seven men in the video have now all been identified and face a possible three-year sentence as well as a hefty fine.

“I didn’t know I was filmed. The fact that I’m talking about it now gives me courage to go to the police and file a complaint.” Souleyman said in an interview with the BBC. He said he would have kept the altercation to himself if not for the video.

Too many times videos like these end up in the wrong places. They end up on YouTube and on WorldStar (in the video someone actually calls out “WorldStar”) and serve as nothing but cheap entertainment. What good does it do for the people in the videos if their footage is never reported? These pictures and these videos are only useful when they are used as information and evidence (See here, here and here). They offer physical proof to back up the claims of a victim and increase the likelihood of justice being served.

Ideally, anyways… 

The naked truth behind life drawing


Originally published by The Toronto Observer.


Scott Koza sits on a stool in the corner of the room, completely still. He’s wearing only his socks and his briefs. It would be some time before he spoke; he was busy posing.

“I’m an observer,” he said. “When you’re naked and you stare at people, no one will ever question it.”

Koza’s work posing gives art students at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre a chance to learn life drawing. David McClyment, a Centennial fine arts teacher, leads the course.

“Life drawing is code for drawing people naked.”

McClyment explained that life drawing helps artists sharpen their hand-eye co-ordination by drawing a model who is posing in front of them.

Scott Koza, 27, modelled for the first time when he was 17 because the original model didn’t show up.

“It was completely terrifying,” he recalled. “I was super red. … It was embarrassing.”

He pointed out that most people who become life models are artists themselves or dancers or musicians who become comfortable with it after repeat sessions. Koza was a fine arts student himself for five years and did life modelling part-time to help pay for school.

He admitted that at first he was very conscious of his body and curious as to what he looked like to other people. Becoming comfortable with one’s body is a “process” he explained.

“It’s super liberating,” he said. “Just learning to love yourself and really accept your body.”

McClyment recognizes the intensive effort required for modelling.

“What most people don’t recognize is that it’s rigorously physical and rigorously mental,” he said.

“If I work three classes, that’s like nine hours of yoga Pilates a day,” Koza said. “I learned more in two years of full-time modelling than I ever did in four years of art school.”

McClyment thinks that life-drawing studios can also help artists retreat into their own minds. He described it as “totally Zen,” and said that it allows artists to “draw like no one’s looking.”

Fine arts instructor David McClyment stands in front of one of his paintings at Centennial College's Story Arts Centre.

Fine arts instructor David McClyment stands in front of one of his paintings at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre.

McClyment organizes a weekly life-drawing studio at Centennial that’s open to the public. He said students enjoy open drawing because there’s no evaluation.

“The hardest thing about drawing is turning your brain off,” he said.