Making Room for Nature: Eco-villages and the Room for the River Projects, Wet Infrastructure Planning Course, Day 4

By Andrew Sgro and Christopher Yuen

Andrew Sgro and Christopher Yuen are students in their final year of Ryerson’s Master of Planning program.  Andrew is focused on feasibility, large-scale infrastructure, and real estate and their potential for improving the places we love.  Christopher’s research interests include transportation planning and multi-functional infrastructure.

Today began with the Lena Maria docked in the Dordrecht, famous for its preserved medieval city centre. We began our day by heading to Culemborg, a municipality approximately 15 minutes south of the city of Utretch.  In Culemborg, we had the opportunity to tour the EVA Lanxmeer Eco-Village, a neighbourhood built to enable closed loop ecosystem services as much as possible. As this community is situated five meters below sea level, water management is essential to the functioning of the area.

Water table meter within the community for public education purposes.

Water table meter within the community for public education purposes.

The initial concept for the eco village was developed by the EVA Foundation with the assistance of the municipality of Culemborg. It is suited within an environmentally significant location as it sits near the town of Culemborg’s drinking water supply. The design of the community was specifically created around protecting and enhancing the site’s environmental features.

Stormwater and greywater is managed internally within the neighbourhood.

Stormwater and greywater is managed internally within the neighbourhood.

The community contains schools, homes, offices, and senior housing providing for an intergenerational mix and uses. Community gardens are located throughout the development with each household contributing their up-keep and finances.

Homeowners are obliged to contribute financially laboriously to the upkeep of community gardens to a mutually agreed upon aesthetic.

Homeowners are obliged to contribute financially laboriously to the upkeep of community gardens to a mutually agreed upon aesthetic.


M. Shouten explains the design and function of the Nijmegen Room for the River Project.

M. Shouten explains the design and function of the Nijmegen Room for the River Project.

In the afternoon, we travelled further east to Nijmegen, a city near the Netherland’s border with Germany.  Here, Mathieu Schouten, landscape architect with the municipality, presented on Nijmegen’s Room for the River project. The Nijmegen Room for the River project is one piece of a 2.4 Billion Euro project to re-design the Rijn River system to manage flood risk in the face of climate change and the increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather.

Above, the island in the image was previously a part of the main land mass above it before the secondary channel for the Waal river was dug.

Above, the island in the image was previously a part of the main land mass above it before the secondary channel for the Waal river was dug. Image source: (

The public engagement, planning and approval of this project took 7 years and construction continues today.  The entire project, including the cost of the re-location of 50 homeowners that had to be expropriated, cost 360 Million Euros.

Water levels at the time of our visit were very low.  The channel is capable of  accommodating flows nearly to the level of the dike where a person is cycling in the photograph.

Water levels at the time of our visit were very low. The channel is capable of accommodating flows nearly to the level of the dike where a person is cycling in the photograph.

This project involved the creation of an artificial secondary channel for the Waal River to accommodate up to 1/3 of the volume of the Waal river at a time of high water flow.

Exploring De Biesbosch, Wet Infrastructure Studio Planning Course, Day 3

By: Greggory Hanson & Trevor Empey

Greggory Hanson: An Urban Planning Masters student with keen interests in urban systems and transportation. Research focus is predominantly in active transportation and stormwater management.

Trevor Empey:  Trevor is a highly engaged, Urban Planning Graduate Student who has a strong interest in environmental planning initiatives and for the development of healthy cities as urbanization continues to explode.

SURP Grads and Undergrads receiving field information from Prof. Lister

SURP Grads and Undergrads receiving field information from Prof. Lister

It isn’t all about big impressive concrete infrastructure in the Netherlands! Sometimes, a perspective and appreciation for the way nature manages water can yield just as impressive results without all the fanfare. Our studio appropriately visited De Biesbosch National Park right after visiting one of the Netherlands largest scale hard infrastructure investments, the Oosterscheldekering, or the Easter Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier. The national park, just on the outskirts of Dordrecht, is one of many ‘Room for the River’ sites aimed at managing river based flooding. We were immersed in the history of the site through a presentation in the museum on site, and a tour of the artificially natural floodplain that spans the majority of De Biesbosch. The site itself is located at the outflow of the Wall River which flows into the Rhine/ Meuse Delta. De Biesbosch National Park is a perfect example of the triple threat that the Dutch face (subsidence, increased outflow, and sea level rise) and what a fitting way to approach this triple threat than to return to natural solutions!

Map of Naturalized Biesbosch

Map of Naturalized Biesbosch


Originally marshlands, De Biesbosch, or a forest of rushwoods in English, was created after  a large flooding event which occurred during the early 15th century. This flooding event caused the breach of several dikes which were poorly built and maintained and after an extended period of time, an estuary system became to be known as De Biesbosch. Overtime, land reclamation occurred through the use of polders, a traditional Dutch water management technique, where a predominant agricultural land use dominated the landscape.

Paradigm Shift

After a few recent scares resulting in the National ‘Room for the River’ project, the Dutch decided to approach De Biesbosch with a different mindset, one where natural interventions and solutions to flood mitigation and water management would be incorporated. The reclaimed land was returned to an artificial natural state that would flood in situations where the rivers swelled. This represented a paradigm shift that was replicating itself all across the Netherlands. The Dutch realized that allowing the natural systems to operate the way they historically have been meant that they could guide and anticipate flooding situations as opposed to the traditional approaches of raising dikes and building large infrastructure. Because of this change in thinking, The De Biesbosch National Park is a flagship example of the Dutch new wave of water management!

Landscape Architect, Robert De Koning, with Prof. Liste discussing the use of willows as as a natural flood mitigation strategy used in De Biesbosch.

Landscape Architect, Robert De Koning, with Prof. Liste discussing the use of willows as as a natural flood mitigation strategy used in De Biesbosch.

Constant visual reminders of the high water mark shown by the defined colours of bricks.

Constant visual reminders of the high water mark shown by the defined colours of bricks.

Exploring Rotterdam: Boats, Bikes, and Basins: Wet Infrastructure Studio Planning Course, Day 2

By: Cate Flanagan and Keira Webster

Cate Flanagan and Keira Webster are in their final year of their Master’s of Planning at the Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning. They are passionate about active and sustainable transportation, building urban resilience, and all things environment-related.

The Netherland’s second largest city, Rotterdam, is home to 584,000 inhabitants and the biggest and busiest port in Europe. Rotterdam, meaning “dam on the Rotte” is situated along the New Meuse river, the primary channel in the delta created by the rivers, Rhine and Meuse. On the morning of Tuesday October 4th, we enjoyed a breezy boat tour exploring the old port of the city experiencing part of what makes Rotterdam a cosmopolitan urban centre.

Not only did we have a great view of Rotterdam’s modern architecture from the boat – including de rotterdam (the tallest building in The Netherlands) designed by Rem Koolhaas and the erasmus bridge designed by Ben van Berkel – but also were able to experience some of the inner workings of the old port from the moving of shipping containers to the dredging of the channel floor (pictured below).

Dredging of the channel floor in Rotterdam (Grant Mason/2016)

Dredging of the channel floor in Rotterdam (Grant Mason/2016)

Our team was fortunate enough to meet Anna Loes Niellsen, the director of DeFacto Architecture + Urbanism and key player in the world water industry. Her firm has worked on extensive flood risk and delta plans for countries ranging from the United States of America to Bangladesh, in addition to multiple projects in climate adaptation, waterfront planning, and parks. Her informative presentation emphasized one main point: “to design, you must understand how the natural systems fundamentally work”, a key lesson for Toronto and our compromised hydrological systems.

The afternoon brought a myriad of educational moments in both green infrastructure and cycling etiquette as we explored Rotterdam’s Merwevierhavens (M4H) neighbourhood. M4H was created as a district for the fruit import industry in the early years of the 20th century. Since then, the technology and energy sectors have occupied the site followed by the recent influx of artists and designers to the area.

The bike tour focused on smaller scale urban blue and green infrastructure. Notable stops along the tour included lunch at the urban farm Uit Je Eigen Stad, the adaptive reuse of a stormwater tank for the ballet, and a rooftop park above a “big box” retail boulevard.

Multi-purpose rooftop park situated above retail street (Cate Flanagan/2016)

Multi-purpose rooftop park situated above retail street (Cate Flanagan/2016)

The bike tour concluded outside M4H at the Rotterdam water square, Benthemsquare (Benthemplein). Pictured below, the water square – designed by Dutch landscape architecture firm, De Urbanisten – makes water the primary feature of the space. The multipurpose public space serves as a school-yard and recreational space during sunny days, and an urban reservoir during storms. Runoff from the city streets are channeled into the square’s basins and is held there until it can be gradually drained into Rotterdam’s larger water management systems.

Benthemplein water square acts as a multi-functional place for stormwater management and public activity (Grant Mason/2016)

Benthemplein water square acts as a multi-functional place for stormwater management and public activity (Grant Mason/2016)


Eupedia. (n.d.). Rotterdam Travel Guide. Retrieved from Eupedia:

Green, J. (2014). Detours Obligatory: Rotterdam’s Water Square. Retrieved from The Dirt ASLA website:

Rotterdams Collectief & Tapan Communicatie. (2014-2015). M4H – Development Strategy. Retrieved from Dutch Urban Solutions website:—m4h-development-strategy

Beautiful Amsterdam, TU Delft, and Massive Infrastructure: Day 1 of Wet Infrastructure Studio Course

By: Grant Mason & Lara Hintelmann

Grant and Lara are in their final year of the graduate planning program at Ryerson University. Lara enjoys exploring new places and learning about how culture and physical landscapes impact each other. Grant enjoys discovering and documenting the beauty in our urban environments and recognizing the ways culture is reflected in architecture. They are both passionate about urban resilience and building healthy sustainable cities.

Leaving Oosterdok in the early afternoon on the Lena Maria, we sailed through the canals of Amsterdam. Taking in the beautiful architecture and getting a feel for the city, we quickly realize two things: the Netherlands is a nation of cyclists and two, it is a nation that lives comfortably with and around water. Upon reaching the countryside, the latter becomes very apparent. Everywhere you look there are straight canals cut into the land. Add in some windmills, grazing cows, and cyclists, and the result is a very romantic and picturesque landscape.

Travelling on the Lena Maria.

Travelling on the Lena Maria.

As lovely as they are, these canals are not built for aesthetic purposes. Rather, they play an important and integral role in the Dutch landscape. Centuries ago land was creating from the then marshy land by a process called poldering: farmers would dig ditches and build dikes around a plot of land, and windmills powering screw-pumps would carry out the drainage process. As a large majority of the Netherlands is below sea-level, this has been the method used to produce land that is dry. Many of these windmills are still operating, though the majority have been replaced with modern electric pumps.

In the early evening we arrive in Leiden, located some 40km from Amsterdam. It is our first opportunity to take out the bikes in the Netherlands and explore, which proved to be quite the introduction to the country. In random bursts of sheet rain and downpours, we cycle through the city centre to experience the carnival that is in full swing. It is the celebration of Drie Oktober – celebrating the end of the Spanish siege of 1574. We hop on “The View of Leiden”, a ferris wheel that gives a wonderful view over the city and the festivities. Despite the down pouring rain, people are still on the rides and enjoying the fun atmosphere.

Docked in Leiden, ready to take out our bikes to explore the city.

Docked in Leiden, ready to take out our bikes to explore the city.

The following morning we get fully immersed in the Dutch culture of “living with water”. To start off our day we visit TU Delft where we listen to a presentation about initiatives in the Netherlands to combat, and also work with water. Projects here are geared towards finding ways to integrate stormwater and flooding, rather than combat and expel water. A major component of stormwater management is the holding, and slowing of water. In many cases the Dutch have engineered their public spaces to act as temporary reservoirs in the event of a storm. More water held in a park means less water to flood basements and homes. This is only one example of the technology being utilized to manage the growing risk of flooding.

Visiting TU Delft, inside the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment

Visiting TU Delft, inside the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment


After this introduction, we have a visit at Deltares, an independent institute for research in water specifically flood risk and adaptive delta planning. Here we are introduced to the Delta Flume – a 300m long flume capable of generating 4.5m high waves. This facility tests full scale effects of extreme waves, useful for flood defence designs and related research. We also take a tour of the hydro facilities and then visit the impressive Deltares interactive data research laboratory (iD-lab). During crisis and disaster situations, this lab uses real-time information to track flooding. Tailored visualizations are created to show the effects of a flood on infrastructure and demonstrates the linkages between stakeholders. The iD-Lab combines expert knowledge and open data to analyze cascading effects.

The Delta Flume at Deltares. Source: Dutch Water Sector, September 2012

The Delta Flume at Deltares. Source: Dutch Water Sector, September 2012

Our last stop of the day as at the Deltapark Neeltje Jans, where we take a walk over to the largest storm surge barrier in the world – the Oosterscheldekering. This experience highlights the history of the Dutch struggle against water.

As Toronto experienced Hurricane Hazel in 1954 that saw much devastation to the city of Toronto, the Netherlands experienced a terrible disaster as well in the 1950s. This storm and resultant flooding claimed the lives of 2,000+ people. This demonstrated the risk and cost of living below sea level, and forced the Dutch to upgrade their protective measures against future storms. The Dutch now face a triple threat in regards to water: sea levels are rising, increased precipitation and melt causes the river levels to rise, and historical poldering has desaturated the land, causing subsidence. In response, the Delta Works Commission was created to develop measures to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. This particular project that we visited is the largest of the 13 Delta Works series of dams and storm surge barriers. This is an immensely impressive undertaking, which sees the delta – a stretch of 9km – cut off by 3 sections of sluices (62 gates in total). These gates close in the event of a major storm surge, but remain open the rest of the time to allow the extreme tides of the Lower Schelt estuary to move in and out. It took a decade to construct and is designed to last 200 years. Before the Oosterscheldekering, the chance of flooding was once in 80 years and now it has been reduced to once in 4000 years.

Visiting the Oosterscheldekering. Walking along one of the 62 gates that make up the 9km long storm surge barrier.picture5

Visiting the Oosterscheldekering. Walking along one of the 62 gates that make up the 9km long storm surge barrier.

Educational playground at the Deltapark Neeltje Jans.

Educational playground at the Deltapark Neeltje Jans.

Ending this outing we came across an interactive playground that aimed to teach children about water and flooding. Children here learn at a very young age about water – living with water is very much part of the culture and it is evident everywhere we go.


After this day of learning about how the Dutch interact with their landscape and take measures to fight climate change, and the ever present threat of the sea, we understand a little bit more of this place and gain a great appreciation for their boldness and ambition.


 At the Deltapark, view from the Oosterscheldekering. The Dutch are world  leaders in managing water.

At the Deltapark, view from the Oosterscheldekering. The Dutch are world  leaders in managing water.

What’s Behind the Masc?

What’s the difference between girls and boys? Looking at a thesaurus will give you a good idea. Under feminine you will find words like: girlish, softdelicategentle, and graceful. Under masculine you will find words like: virile, manly, muscular, strong, strapping, well built, robust, brawny, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous, rugged, and unwomanly. On paper it would seem that girls and boys are very different, but in reality they are both humans capable of the same emotions and capacities. Yet as a society we do not let that be the prevailing idea, we choose to box each other up and apply these antiquated, sexist, and patriarchal values that are extremely destructive. We are slowly killing our boys with these unattainable and wrong constructs of what it is to be a man and the fear of being thought of as a woman or of having feminine characteristics. We are slowly but systematically turning our boys into angry, abusive, sexist, depressed, violent, and emotionally depleted rapists, murderers, and fathers. We are dehumanizing them without even realizing what we’ve done.

Recently, the Faculty of Communication and Design created the Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change. The centre’s pilot project is Refashioning Masculinity which aims to create a society where we’re all free to be ourselves and can equally value each other in all our diversity. They are using the power of fashion to re-imagine men’s gender identities and foster their diversity. As part of this project the centre held a screening of the film The Mask You Live In. The film follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. The film illustrates how society can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.

Gender norms are a part of our society, whether we like it or not we are constantly applying them and labeling each other and our actions as either male or female. This creates the idea that girls and boys are different and therefore should act unlike one another. This also seems to build on the idea that there is something wrong with you if you don’t stay true to these gender norms, if you don’t wear and exemplify your label. But what is wrong with a boy who cries or a boy who shows his emotions and knows how to live with them? In my eyes there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with how society and individuals respond to that boy. Bullying and abuse is generally what follows when a boy shows emotion. Interestingly, if a young boy cries there doesn’t seem to be an issue, it is only as that boy ages and grows that he is expected to shut off his emotions with the exception of anger. We teach boys that they are not allowed to have emotion and this only leads to the death of self.

How is it that boys are taught not to feel? Our society holds ideals of what a man is and these ideals slip into parenting style and peer relationships via mass media. We teach our boys through example, we show them exactly what a man is and how to act like one. Unfortunately, we show them that a man is someone who cannot love and is entitled to respect. Someone of power who dominates over others and uses violence to win, never falling prey to feminine or weak character.

Looking first at parenting style, boys are expected to grow into men and mothers and fathers are the ones who will take them there. This results in a twisted parental fear that if they allow their sons to show emotion they will not become men, but will instead turn into sissies that will not survive adulthood. This may result in emotional neglect and shaming of sons from their parents, a form of abuse that leads to depression and poor self-worth and -esteem. This may also lead to physical abuse as a way of “training”, to dehumanize boys so that they can become “tough” and exude masculinity. Abuse may also been seen as a way to stamp out “wrong” behaviour. Parents often only have their own upbringing to use as a source of reference when raising their children and external influences such as internalized homophobia and sexism alter parenting style. This means that boys who become men who become fathers may treat their sons the way they were treated by their fathers, to pressure them into the way of masculinity. If a man was raised in a culture of abuse and has lived a life where he has not been able to express emotion and has developed mental illness he may abuse his own children as a result, teaching them his ways. Thankfully, this is not the way all boys are raised, parenting operates on a spectrum. However, even those boys who are raised with love are exposed to society and media which alter their view on the world and on themselves.

When boys enter the school system they become a part of their own micro-culture and peer groups which reinforce male and female gender norms that they learn either at home or from media. Boys pressure each other to be more masculine, to not act like a girl. Boys are pressured to fit the social constructs of masculinity out of fear of social isolation and alienation, but even when they accept these constructs they become isolated in their own minds with the inability to reach out. This further removes the emotional language from boys and harms their mental health. With this we see higher rates of depression and suicide among young boys. As boys age and force their emotions inward they become more likely to commit suicide than girls. Additionally, this inward channeling of emotion and snubbing of expression build up to the point where boys act out in violent ways. In media, including video games, music, film, TV, and pornography boys are shown that violence is a successfully and accepted way to handle anger. With this learned idea in mind combined with built up aggression and distorted emotional and mental health boys reach for violence rather than help.

This article may seem an extremist point of view, but it is not untrue. Why is there on average one school shooting a week in the United States? Why are 90% of the shooters male? These men are othered into “mental health” and the gender link is ignored. Perhaps the reason these boys have mental illness and explode in violent ways is because that is what they are trained to do, that is what they are taught is acceptable. If you feel any negative emotion channel it into anger until you can no longer withstand it, then express your anger with violence on others. Rather than, if you feel a negative emotion show it, ask for help and take off your mask.

Boys are human just like girls. They have emotion, they feel and they should be allowed to show those feelings. Masculinity has become warped to the point where it no longer even stands for strength and power, it means anger and violence. A man is no more a man when he cannot feel, he is no longer human. We need to teach our boys that to be a man is to have caring and compassion. We need to remove the masc from masculinity. We can be happy, sad, angry, confused, anxious, remorseful, fearful, guilty, grieving, bored, and loving.

What a slut…

The internet and by extension cell phones have changed the way we communicate and with that, have changed the way we express ourselves. We can share anything we want with whoever we want, there are seemingly no limits. However, what happens when we share something that doesn’t belong to us? When we break a trust and destroy privacy, exposing someone to the world in their most vulnerable form. Revenge porn, or non-consensual porn, is when images or videos that are of an explicit nature are given to a trusted person and then shared with someone else, someone who was never intended to see them. This type of porn grows from sexting and ends with an assault on dignity and sometimes death.

The Centre for Free Expression held a panel to discuss what can be done about sexting and revenge porn in Canada. The panelists were Wanye MacKay, Lara Karaian, and Peter Jacobsen. MacKay is a professor of law at Dalhousie University, chair of the Nova Scotia Task Force on Bullying and Cyberbullying, and former director of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Karaian is an associate professor at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University and expert consultant to the Australian International Consultation on Sexting. Jacobsen is one of Canada’s most distinguished media and defamation lawyers.

In the United States 60% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 and 50% of adults between the ages of 18 and 54 have sexted or shared intimate pictures or videos. These statistics may come off as alarmingly high but what is more alarming is that 1 in 10 of these people have been threatened with exposure, and that’s not taking into account that these threats are underreported. Majority of these threats come from men and are aimed at women. This makes revenge porn a predominantly women’s issue and I will go as far to say that it is violence against women. This is not to say that men cannot be victims, however for some reason when a woman is exposed to society in this way we seem to take a harsher tone, it is somehow more controversial. Women are often shamed for revenge porn and attacked by both the perpetrators and society. The victims of revenge porn are often blamed, wrongfully, for sharing intimate photos. This means that not only are they humiliated and degraded by the perpetrator, but by society and their peers as well and this is where the real issue of revenge porn lies; the victim isn’t to blame, the perpetrator is.

Creating and sharing an intimate picture or video of oneself is not illegal. For adults to share intimate pictures and videos with consent is not illegal. Sharing intimate pictures and videos without consent is illegal. So then why do we as a society come together to shame the creator of the picture and not the one who shared it without consent? Why is the victim at fault? It could be said that if the picture had never been created then the crime would not have happened, but the crime would also not have happened had the picture not been made public, had that person respected basic privacy and kept their trust. The creation of an intimate photo is an expression of sexuality and adults are free to share their expression in this way. However, when the non-consensual sharing occurs we jump on the creator for being stupid or foolish, we blame them and say they had it coming, as though they deserved it. We turn the creator of the picture into a slut and tell them that they are to blame, that this is their fault. However, we don’t turn the perpetrator into an assailant, we don’t tell them they assaulted someone and they were wrong to do it. If someone is a slut do they deserve to be humiliated and punished for their immoral ways? That’s the way society thinks and acts, but that is not true. Being a slut isn’t wrong and it doesn’t mean you should be ruined and chastened; it doesn’t mean you should be ostracized and it doesn’t mean you should be killed. The social death that comes with this level of humiliation and shaming is a real death for the victim, and it can and has led to suicide.

When someone is the victim of revenge porn they suffer emotional distress due to the shame of the incident and the alienation and bullying they receive. This attack on the mental health of a victim is very dangerous and Canada has seen too many cases where this occurs. When someone is constantly harassed and shamed it can destroy their self-confidence and it can destroy them. We as a society know the harm that can come from bullying and yet we still do it, we still allow for bullying to occur in these cases because for some reason it’s ok to bully a slut; it’s ok to hurt someone because they were dumb enough to bring it on themselves. Why don’t we bully the perpetrator? Why are they not shamed and demeaned by the public? They committed a heinous crime against someone’s dignity, they virtually assaulted someone, and we let them go on, we continue the violence.

As a society we need to start putting the blame on the perpetrators of revenge porn and not the victims. Intimate photos are a form of self expression and should not be thought of as wrong or immoral. We are taking away a form of free expression and reinventing it as filth that is to be wiped clean. We seem to be afraid of this kind of self expression, that it’s dirty and somehow of a lesser value. But how can we praise Manet’s Olympia and burn a Hustler magazine, at the core they are providing imagey of the same thing. Does society shame Olympia? Or even Manet? Blaming the victim only makes the situation worse and when it concerns the mental health of a child we as a society are taking large risks in attacking them, not the other way around. Sharing these photos is thought of as a risky behaviour and that only perpetuates the idea that intimate photos are going to get you in trouble. It should be that the non-consensual sharing of intimate photos is a risk, it’s wrong and will get you in trouble not the consensual sharing. When we share something of an intimate nature we have a certain level of trust that it won’t go any farther than that person. When it makes its way to the world that trust has been broken and that person degraded. That’s the crime here and the fault sits with the Judas that broke that trust not the victim.

Ryerson Stands with #BlackLivesMatterTO


Garnering a lot of media attention lately has been Toronto’s very own Black Lives Matter movement. A very pertinent social justice issue of our time, the Black Lives Matter movement holds its roots in our neighbouring country, the United States, where the current racial climate is centred on the persecution of the members of the black community. There have been numerous injustices involving the various police officers in different states of America, wrongly persecuting black individuals, namely, young black men. Unfortunately, for the majority, the result has been death for these wrongly persecuted individuals. This has led to a revolution in the black community; the Black Lives Matter activists used their voices to speak out on such injustices and bring honor to the fallen people of their community. They have protested various streets in the United States, asking government officials and police department officials to end the racial profiling and racial discrimination. The powerful voices of the Black Lives Matter movement in the States has been heard all around the world – including our very own neighbourhood, Toronto.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto – Coalition was is made up of Black Torontonians working in solidarity with various communities in our local streets of Toronto to work towards a common goal: social justice. This group has acknowledged the deep racial discrimination and stigmatization that black communities in the States have been going through, and have noticed similar patterns of behaviour in our very own neighbourhood. Currently, the Black Lives Matter Toronto activists have been fighting for justice for the death of Andrew Loku.

Andrew Loku was a 45 year old man, living in an apartment building on Eglinton Ave. W and Caledonia Ave. On the evening of July 4, 2015, Andrew was disturbed in his sleep by a significantly loud noise from his upstairs neighbours. He asked them continuously to minimize the noise, so that he can be able to sleep, but the noise persisted. Overwhelmed by the loud noise, and being unable to sleep, Loku grabbed a hammer and began banging it against the apartment hallway doors and walls. The police were called to address this particular noise. Within seconds of the police officer’s arrivals, a police officer shot Andrew Loku twice, killing him in the hallway of his apartment building.

Andrew Loku was regarded by all those who knew him as a kind and friendly man. He was a husband and a father to five children, and lived alone in Toronto, while working to bring his family to Canada from where they currently live in South Sudan. He graduated from George Brown College in the construction program, and worked various jobs to make ends meet for himself and for his family back in South Sudan.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition has challenged the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to release the name of the officer who shot Andrew Loku, having not been in immediate danger or threat himself. The identity of the officer has remained un-released while the SIU investigates logistics of the situation – such as whether or not officers were notified that the building in which they were responding to, the building that Andrew Loku resided in, was leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association. This apartment complex offered affordable housing services for people suffering with a mental illness. The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition have worked tirelessly in protest, rain or shine – snow or sun, to plead to government officials, such as Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, to address this serious injustice. As such, the officer who fatally shot Andrew Loku has not yet been charged for this unjust act nearly a year after his untimely death.

I have had the privilege of visiting the hub of the protests on 40 College Street, where I met protestors from BLM-TO. It was an environment unlike any other. While one would imagine a protest to have quite a tense, aggressive, and hostile energy, the BLM-TO exuded nothing but love and hospitality to all those who observed and/or joined the protest. There was food, water, warm blankets, gloves, and hats being passed around to the protestors – not just from amongst one another, but from the on-lookers as well. There were shouts of social justice, peace, and equality. There were cries and pleads of putting an end to racial profiling and discrimination, and a plea to the SIU and the Toronto Police Department to be accountable for their actions. There was music, dancing, motivating speeches, laughter, and deep discussions to honor the valuable black lives lost to racial injustices.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Ryerson students in solidarity with BLM-TO on campus the other day. The march was organized by numerous student groups on campus, in collaboration with BLM-TO, to protest social justice in and around the Ryerson community. With Ryerson being at the very heart of Toronto, it seemed only natural that Ryerson students stand in solidarity with our community. Among the student groups during this march for social justice included the Ryerson East Africans’ Students Association (REASA); Ryerson Student Union (RSU); and the United Black Students at Ryerson (UBSR). During the march, the students in protest used their voices to urge other fellow students to show their support by donating supplies, food, water, warm clothing, etc to the BLM-TO Coalition, to encourage the progression of the protest. Students on campus were eager and receptive to what Ryerson students and BLM-TO had to say, and showed their solidarity with the movement. It was a refreshing and culturally enriching experience to have witnessed – and frankly, it made me even more proud to be a Ram and a Torontonian.

If you would like to donate and show your support and solidarity, BLM-TO can be found here:

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Facebook

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Twitter

40 College Street, Toronto, ON


How Networking Can Change Your Life

I’m in third year now and I have attended a few networking events. These events are usually full of professionals in the field and my peers. Networking is a fancy way of making friends. Literally, it is fancy because it is making friends in a professional manner. Now, the key word is professional. Your traditional way of making friends won’t work. It won’t work because you need to watch what we say and how we say it.  Ted Rogers basically engraves all of its students with the skills of networking but what about the rest of the disciplines? People in STEM programs need it too. Especially since we are known for having the knowledge and skills, but don’t knowing how to articulate it. But this fancy form of socializing is crucial if you want to become a confident and well-rounded person. Confidence in your abilities and being well-rounded so you can speak to a wide range of people will not only help you get a job, but will help you figure out a path beyond your degree. So as per usual, I want to make this a quick and easy read with a list of baby steps you can take.

1. Practice makes perfect.  The more events you go to, the more you will be exposed to the “real world.” Now I usually hate the use of this world but I find it applicable to this list. You may think your routine of going to class, studying and partying is the real world but it is only a small part of it. This routine will eventually come to an end and you don’t want to wait for that to happen before you expose yourself to the rest of the real world. When this routine ends, you don’t want to be frantically trying to “find yourself” and what you want to do with your degree. You should try to find yourself and develop your interests in and around your degree. So here are some resources for you to take advantage of and explore the Ryerson environment.

2. Be positive. First impressions count the most in professional settings. This will mean the difference between getting a business card or a handshake goodbye. I have personally seen so many awkward situations where students are caught complaining about other students, professors and the school. This only reflects badly on you because it means if you were to join their team/organization and something doesn’t go your way, you will in turn spread your negative views, Learn more about the power of positivity here.

Again, from experience, I know people appreciate positivity and can sense genuinity. So, don’t be afraid to be yourself!

3. Listen more, talk less. In any event, you will meet people who just want to talk your ear off. Just don’t be that person. When you speak less, you listen better. And actually listen. So many times I’ve seen people zone out in conversations and it reflects poorly on them as a person. I know someone who currently works for the Biomedical Zone at St.Michael’s hospital and has worked for numerous other organizations in the past, yet has never formally applied for a job. You might think that is too good to be true, but really it isn’t. More often now than ever before, managers are moving away from the traditional style of hiring employees.

4. Ask names. By learning names and actually remembering them, you will stand out from the crowd. Students usually don’t have business cards but making an effort to stay in contact will benefit you in the long run. Especially knowing people from an array of programs. Students often make the mistake of staying in a bubble and only making friends in their program. From experience, I can tell you that knowing and meeting people from different programs has helped me with my stress and anxiety. This is because they help put life into perspective. By understanding that everyone is on the same boat but are going in different directions you begin to feel confident in your own path.

5. Follow-up! Following up with them doesn’t guarantee you a job but will set you apart from everyone else. Whether by email, setting up a meeting or attending other events they might be a part of, staying connected will allow you to build your network.

I hope these tips help! I try to practice them as much as I can but I am guilty of inconsistency myself. So don’t be discouraged when you are unable to follow through with them. One of the best resources I can give you now is Ryerson’s Career Center. You might know this but you’ve already paid for their services through your tuition fees so why not use them? They offer workshops as well as one on one sessions to help you with your resume, cover letter and provide you with career advice.


The Zika Virus: What’s the truth?

With the end of the semester, and the end of another full academic year coming to an end, I’m sure a number of you – myself included – are starting to think about vacation plans. The summer is nearly approaching and students are eager to get out of the classroom and trade the scenery for somewhere warmer, something with a view, and somewhere with lots of sand. That being said, vacation plans can get a little complicated with the current global concern of the Zika Virus. But what exactly is the Zika Virus? Will it affect your plans to go down to the Dominican with your friends? Who does it affect? What can you do to prepare yourself and make sure you’re well-protected on your travels? Whether you’re going down to Brazil itself and spending a lot of time there this summer, or you’re simply travelling anywhere south of the border for any length of time just to catch some sun, being an informed and well-prepared traveller is key. Hopefully, this post will help educate you and prepare you on how to travel smarter and safer.

What is Zika?

Zika is a virus that spread amongst people who are infected by the bite of a mosquito called Aedes. Because this virus is spread through a mosquito, it is called a vector-borne disease. Most people who are infected with the Zika virus experience symptoms characterized by a mild fever, skin rashes, joint pain, conjunctivitis, or headaches. These symptoms typically last anywhere from 2-7 days and can be treated through common prescribed and over-the-counter medication.

This virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda. The first discovery of this virus infecting humans was in 1952. Since that first discovery of the initial outbreak, various Zika outbreaks have been reported in various tropical areas in:

  • Africa
  • Southeast Asia
  • Pacific Islands

The current “hub” for the Zika virus – where the most recent outbreak was identified – is in Brazil. Local transmission has been reported around Brazil and has continued to spread to various areas in other countries and territories.

What are the signs and symptoms of Zika?

As mentioned above, the most common signs and symptoms of Zika virus are:

  • Mild fever
  • Skin rashes
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (Red eyes)
  • Headaches

The most alarming symptom of Zika – also the reason for its high profile attention – is a condition called Microcephaly. Microcephaly is a birth defect characterized by an unusually smaller head size than what is expected when compared to babies born of that specific age, height, and weight. This occurs primarily due to underdevelopment of the infant’s brain while in the fetus. Microcephaly can lead to other health complications such as:

  • Seizures
  • Developmental Delay
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Problems with Movement and Balance
  • Feeding Problems
  • Hearing Loss
  • Vision Impairment

The most concerning cases of Zika have involved pregnant women who have been infected with the Zika Virus, delivering children who are born with microcephaly. This certain condition has been the reason for international concern concerning this virus.

What can I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately, as of this current moment, there are no known vaccines against the Zika virus. But there are some preventative measures that you can take if you’re traveling to the tropics this summer. These preventative measures are all centred around repelling the mosquito that is responsible for transmitting the virus.

  • Use insect repellent regularly
  • Wear light-coloured clothing that covers as much of the body as possible
  • Use window screens; close the doors; close the windows whenever possible
  • If necessary, use a mosquito net over beds
  • Empty/clean/cover containers that regularly store water
    • Water is a breeding site for mosquitos

If you decide to travel somewhere in the tropics this summer, hopefully this has helped you to be more knowledgeable and better prepared with your travels! Bearing these things in mind will help you to not only protect yourself and prevent transmission to yourself, but hopefully help you protect other travellers around you.

All sources used:

But what is the truth?

Lying is a part of being a human. We lie all the time for different reasons. We lie to each other and to ourselves. Does that mean it’s ok to lie? In certain situations lying can be beneficial and in others it can lead to destruction. Knowing that humans have the ability and motive to lie, does that mean we shouldn’t trust each other?

Recently, Jian Ghomeshi, former radio broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was put on trial for four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking for which he was acquitted because it was found that the accusers were lying. The judge believed that the complainants were being “deceptive and manipulative” with their evidence and therefore could no longer be a trusted source of the truth. The court no longer had sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of the complainants and thus was left with a reasonable doubt. That closed the trial on Jian Ghomeshi and at the same time transformed these women from victims into perpetrators, and into liars. However, what if these women really did feel that they were victims of sexual assault? Will this trial change the way we see sexual assault victims?

The Centre for Women and Trans People at Ryerson hosted a crafternoon in support of survivors of sexual assault on the same day that the Ghomeshi trial ended. This event was to show that regardless of this trial we should believe survivors of sexual assault. This is also why the Centre has a survivor support line (416-260-0100) and offers services and supplies for safe sex and a safe space for women and trans people.

Sexual Assault can be a difficult issue in court because it can sometimes rely on “he said, she said” evidence, this is why victims often feel they will not be believed, they feel like they don’t have proof. This is also why there are few sexual assault convictions, without witnesses or physical evidence a court can have difficulty convicting. This is also why it is important to tell survivors you believe them and to support them because if no one says anything nothing can be done to stop it and more people will be victimized. The Department of Justice notes that sexual assault is among the crimes that are the least likely to be reported and in 1999 found that 78% of sexual assault cases were not reported to police in Canada. Additionally, sexual assault incidents are generally reported well after the fact and this can be due to various reasons. The 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization found that incidents were not reported by victims because: they were dealt with in another way, deemed not important enough, or that they did not want to involve the police. Some victims believe that the police cannot or will not help them when they have been sexually assaulted and others fear revenge from their assailant.

Another serious issue that comes out of sexual assault is that victims often do not seek out help or support. Fear and shame are built into sexual assault and the victims want privacy as a result. This is detrimental to their health and to the health of society because again if the police or anyone doesn’t know, then we can’t do anything about it. This is another reason to give support and to believe someone when they confide in you. It is very difficult to relive the memories and to share them and to have someone brush them off or not believe you is devastating. There is another part to this however, the victim usually knows their offender. In 2000, 80% of sexual assault cases were committed by someone who was known to the victim. Almost 30% of the offenders were family members of their victims and 10% were friends. This makes the situation even worse for the victim because the relationship they hold with the accused may hold them back from reporting the crime. It also puts them at risk for a repeat assault and damages their mental health as they must to continue to live their life with the offender and in silence.

I have written a lot about supporting survivors in this column and so I would like to give some ways to do that. If someone tells you that they have experienced sexual violence the best thing to do is listen, hear what they are saying and give them the space to say it. You want them to feel that they are not alone and that you believe them, we all have the right to be and feel safe. Do not push for information because it is their story to tell and they will give what they want to and they may not even remember all of it. Shock and fear can cause our memories to be repressed and for them to lose order making it difficult for someone to recall. Also, offer support services. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres has a list of different kinds of support services in Ontario that are available to everyone. Additionally, it is important to understand that we all have common beliefs about sexual violence some of which are myths. Doing research on sexual violence can be useful regardless of whether you know someone who was assaulted or not. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres is a useful resource for this kind of research and has a list of common sexual violence myths.

Sexual violence is horrific. It has been a part of human culture for some time and unfortunately will probably continue to be, just like lying. However, when it comes to lying and sexual violence do we really know what the truth is? If there are no witnesses and no physical evidence how do we know who is telling the truth and what it really is? Someone can say something happened but what if they lied? Lying about sexual assault is not common in Canada, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. These kinds of questions and statements are why victims of sexual assault do not speak out, they fear that they will not be believed. Our justice system works by keeping people innocent until proven guilty, but when you are the victim of sexual assault you are also treated like the guilty party and can unjustly be turned from victim into liar.