Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Citizen Carding: Toronto's Amended Carding Policy

Parents keep their eyes on the baby learning to open the the front door or climb over the baby-proof gate. Teachers watch those marking-software graphs, eyes out for a sloping curve. If we are suspicious of something to happen, we may step in and solve it in advance. There should be nothing wrong with this idea, right?

Do you know where I'm going? Maybe you do. A study performed by two researchers, one at the University of California and another at the University of Texas showed that in video games of "action/shooter variety of urban/street gaming, blacks and Latinos are portrayed as brutally violent, casually criminal and sexually promiscuous." Surely a civilized society is not done with racial bias?

If you live in Toronto then you must know where I'm going by now. If you don't live in Toronto then still sit back and I'll fill you in about Toronto's Carding Policy.

This month, amendments to Toronto's c0arding policy were approved by Toronto's Police Board. In the revised policy, police officers do not need to give receipts to those they have stopped. Instead they hand out a business card. They do not need to explain citizens of their right to walk away. They can investigate any citizen without a specified reason to do so. The policy's amendments come against the Ontario Human Rights Commission's reccomendations which include informing carded citizens of their right to leave and be silent, collecting and analysing race-based data to detect racial biases in the first place, hand out receipts, limiting an officer's power to stop a person and ridding any carding-related data which "lacks a non-discriminatory explanation."

Even though Toronto is only 8 percent black, in July 2014 the Toronto Star revealed that 27.4 percent of those carded are black. My calculator gives 3.4 times likely to be carded.

A police officer cannot be a community member when using racial bias on the job while serving a community. It may not be a crime, yet when we over-target specific communities, we continue to show that blacks are untrustworthy. We continue to propagate the idea which sat on the North American Plate since the first European settlers arrived, that a person with darker skin is more uncivilized than a person of lighter skin. We continue to put those of dark colour in fear of their next encounter and frustration of why it might be the twenty-sixth time or fiftieth time a police car has stopped them while doing nothing wrong in the first place. Last summer I read Malala Yousafzai's I am Malala (currently one of my favourite books) in which she describes her childhood in Pakistan, a place where one must bribe their way to a fair trial. I heard stories from India of authorities that will not give you a fair say for whom you are. When we allow those in authority to use discrimination on the job, we only stumble a few steps back - or let me be more inclusive and say wheel a few metres back - rather than moving forward to build the progressive multicultural society we want to boast of, some already doing. Race-based policing has no place and neither does a policy which embraces it.

Mark Saunders. Taken from:
The Toronto Police Board chose Mark Saunders as our new chief on April 17th. Unlike Blair, his skin is dark enough to call him black. Can we expect changes to the carding policy? I cannot say I know so. I'm not sure whether Saunders will uphold the policies rooted or shovel around the tree until it tips it over. Meanwhile I urge Saunders to amend the policy. I urge Toronto's police board to stand up to the amended carding policy. I want to walk Toronto's streets believing we live in a society of fair trial where you are not discriminated by a person in authority for whom you are. No person in authority should put down a person for their colour or stereotype.

- FA

P. S: I'm sorry to hear about the earthquake in Nepal. My prayers are with them and this week I'll be donating to relief efforts.

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Monday, 20 April 2015

Equal Pay Day: From a Female Future Engineer

April 20th. It's Equal Pay Day today.

The United Nations recently released a statement that at its current rate, we will not close the gender gap for seventy years. Currently worldwide, a woman earns seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man earns. In the UK, a woman without children earn 25% higher than one with two children. (I myself am one of two.)

Yes, I'm entering a STEM field. High expectations for one wrongly pressed button on the calculator can cost one hundred and fifty lives. About one in every four of my classmates is female. "Why did you go into engineering?" "I guess I like Chemistry, and it has good pay." "Why did you go into engineering?" "To make fossil fuels history." In the United States, for a dollar a male computer hardware engineer makes, a woman makes eighty-four cents. For a dollar a male computer software engineer makes, a woman earns eighty-eight cents. In the United Kingdom, by the age of 40 a female chemical engineer receives 75 percent of what a male chemical engineer receives in pay.

75 percent? By the grading systems I've lived with, a B. 84 cents of one hundred? An A-. 88 cents of 100? A. The only problem with such gradings is that the peers and I are not ranked by the same test.

Do I want to live my entire career - or life, considering that the average life expectancy for women in Ontario was 84 as of 2009 and I could be 88 by the time we are likely to advance against the gender gap - earning less than a male counterpart? No way. Do I want my salary to suggest I was taught fewer concepts than male classmates sitting in the seat next to me in every lecture hall I attended? No way. I put the word 'dread' to the gender gap.

It's not just I and the friends I've made in my courses these past eight months or my industrial engineering aunt almost completing a year of work at her new company, having been laid off at her previous company after returning from her second maternity leave. I went out to lunch this week with a very close friend studying Health Sciences. I've been cheering on a twelfth-grade friend via email as she aims for a spot at the University of Toronto's Rotman. Executives in an organization I'm also an executive for studying subjects such as History. Do I want to see their futures lagging behind those of male job applicants or male coworkers for their gender? Not a single bit.

There is nothing impatient about not wanting to wait until my five-month-old cousin - my very first female Canadian cousin with an electrical engineer for a dad - turns seventy. The change is well-overdue by decades. Three years and I'll be ready for my first full-time job. After its acceptance will come the other milestones of adulthood: first paycheque of my new job, thirteenth paycheque of the job, first apartment alone, first money deposited for retirement and if the highway's commuters shift to a future relief line and growth increases exponentially in the renewable, maybe buy my first and solar-panel-run car. (Taking the subway is actually cheaper, so I may stick to it.) Financially it should not be harder for me than a male person sitting in my lecture halls unless they were born with engineering knowledge. Financially it should not be harder for any woman on this planet and a male counterpart.

What do I do for now? The answer is easy for now. I enter my exam tomorrow (Yes, I'm blogging the night before an exam.) where I'm sure I will not be asked easier questions than a male friend. Fast forward a few years and I've slipped on my iron ring, however . . . the words of a former teacher echoing in my head about women's participation in the Sciences at a time when I had first considered entering the Sciences and only a few months before I suddenly pieced together my vision of my future engineering career, my determination that I would stay unstoppable . . . "Science needs you . . ."

- FA

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Right to Free Healthcare: Funding At-Home Cancer Drugs

Daffodil Pins for Daffodil Days
It might've been on your commute or as you were walking into a multi-storey office building downtown or in a grocery store you attend. A person in a yellow apron carrying a box filled with plastic pins and a money slot. Daffodil Days. I myself raised some funds downtown. Meanwhile at the end of March I heard about the Daffodil Days campaign starting back at my high school and felt pride to my former teacher supervisor for continuing my initiative. As it is Daffodil Month, today's blog post shifts towards healthcare rights in, as you most likely guessed in the last second, cancer.

First as a backgrounder, cancer is caused by cells in the body dividing uncontrollably due to a negative mutation, or change in its DNA information. Different methods of treatment currently include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, hormonal therapy, stem cell therapy and surgery. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancerous cells, radiation therapy uses high-energy light (radiation) to repeatedly destroy cancerous cells, hormonal therapy changes specific body hormonal levels to prevent cancerous cells from growing, biological therapy changes cancer cell behaviour by using substances mimicking regular substances which cancer cells use, stem cell transplants introduce stem cells to the bone marrow if it has been damaged by other types of therapy while surgery removes the cancer-infected portion of a patient's body. In 2009, it was predicted that "45% of men and 41% of women" will develop cancer in their lives while 2006-2008 estimates predicted that the five-year-survival rate is 63% of those diagnosed, ranging between 17% for lung cancer and 96% for prostrate cancer.

Three types of the treatment I mentioned above require specific cancer drugs to be treated. Alongside treatment-specific drugs, cancer patients are prescribed medications to reduce negative side effects of treatments.

Approximately one-third of cancer medications are taken at home rather than the hospital, though this number is expected to reach sixty percent. If taken at the hospital, cancer patients do not have to pay for their drugs. If taken at home, they pay additional costs. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, "about three-quarters of newer cancer drugs taken at home cost over $20,000. The average cost of a single course of treatment with newer cancer drugs is $65,000." Even though Ontario has its Drug Benefit Plan which covers cancer medication costs for those on social assistance or seniors, co-payments result in paying $6,000 annually. The plan also sets an annual deductible of around $100. Furthermore differences in cost coverage between provinces have that a patient's location decides what amount they pay. Canada's western provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and Quebec cover costs for home-administered drugs while the same coverage lacks in other provinces. Three years ago Manitoba introduced its initiative to "fund oral cancer drugs through the new Manitoba Home Cancer Drug Program (HCD) which is a program for Manitobans diagnosed with cancer that funds eligible outpatient oral cancer and specific supportive drugs, as listed in the HCD Program Formulary, at no cost to the patient." For almost a year in New Brunswick, the program has been in effect. Yet some believe that the insurance rates of the plan are costly for rates which "range from $800 per year for an individual earning less than $26,360 or a single person with children or a couple with or without children earning $49,389 or less. The highest fee is $2,000 per year for an individual earning more than $75,000 or a single person with children or a couple with or without children earning more than $100,000." At the same time, it requires a 30% co-payment for each drug, limited to thirty dollars per prescription.

What impact arises from paying large amounts of money to receive cancer medications? According to the Canadian Cancer Society, nine of ten cancer patients experience financial difficulties in paying for cancer treatment. 16.5% of Ontarians in a study found out-of-pocket treatment costs "significant" and 3.9% found them "unmanageable." Rural patients have travel costs for treatment, an estimated of $1000 in Newfoundland and Laborador. The younger a patient is, the larger the financial impact the patient pays for treatment. Additional costs arise in those that take time off work to be treated or to care for a family member with cancer. Some have sold property or assets to pay for costs. Recently the Ottawa Citizen covered a woman who sold her business to pay for her cancer treatment, leaving it with only one other employee. Some cancer patients are skipping doses or treatment altogether to avoid the financial impact. A study performed by the University of North Carolina showed that those with higher drug co-payments were seventy percent likelier to end their treatment and forty-two percent likelier to skip doses.

Why should a living person on the planet need to spend large amounts of money to fight for their life? There is no right to give a person the opportunity to choose survival chance at the price of financial hardship or saved money by guaranteeing death. There is no right for cancer treatments to be as costly as an expensive Ontario university education. (Whose costs also need to decrease) Is cancer not enough of a stressful challenge without worrying about the inability to pay for treatment? Life-and-death situations should not become debt-or-death situations. A person at meetings at the Canadian Cancer Society battled cancer at a young age. I know those that know those fighting cancer. Last year when I did a Daffodil Days campaign at my high school and travelled across the school to collect signatures to an "I'm donating for" wall, many had personal connections to cancer. Is this what I want them and those they know with cancer to face? Not at all. 45% of males and 41% of females. (As I am religious, I will use the following term -) God-forbid my dread that those close to me or those close to those close to me join the statistics, how will they pay? The second-last situation I want to see them in is to consider selling their assets or anticipating social insurance simply for the right to fight for their life or not having enough in the first place to fight for it. (What is the last situation, you wonder? Death itself.) It is almost a situation where one is convicted of a crime and must bribe large amounts of money to receive a trial. Is this what we call free healthcare? The right to healthcare? The right to treatment? I disagree.

In the dread of being another person watching a person we know enter hardship in the face of survival, another doctor addressing patients' financial concerns with empty solutions, or a cancer patient ourselves wishing we relocated to another province earlier enough, what do we do? I believe there is hope. A coalition of thirty non-profit organizations, CanCertainty, are calling to provincial governments to cover take-at-home medications. The Canadian Cancer Society's Ontario Division posted a petition to Ontario MPPs (provincial politicians) on its Ontario Division Take Action webpage. Media coverage is spreading on the issue. We have the power to address our politicians. We have the power to not give up in turning around Debt-or-Death to fulfilling of one of CanCertainty's slogans: "Cancer isn't fair, but access to treatment should be." 
CanCertainty image
One of CanCertainty's slogans: "Cancer isn't fair, but access to treatment should be."
Taken from

- FA

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

International Day of Pink: Stepping Beyond the Door of Dismissal

Happy International Day of Pink!

(For those of you that saw my last blog post, don't worry as this time I got the colour right.)

TDSB Pink Logo. Taken from

Schools encouraging their students to wear pink. The TDSB (Toronto District School Board) logo going pink on its website today. At the same time it is upsetting that the need to bring everyone together in a pink shirt still remains. In other words, bullying continues. It's not only the kid that pushes another on the playground. It's not only the kid being laughed at for their height, whether it be tall or short or somewhere in between. It's not only stories like Jeremy Dias's and the stream of insults and push against ignorance he received for being gay. It's in some workplaces. It's in some societies with parental pressure and relatives' ideologies.

Why isn't it stopping? Before I answer it, I want to turn your attention to two myths on bullying.

Myth one: Bullies grow out of it.
Fact: Those predicting that age is inversely proportional to one's kindness level calculated with the wrong formula. According to a 2007 survey, 37% were bullied in the workplace. In fact, "workplace bullying causes $3 billion in lost productivity and a staggering $19 billion loss in employment every year." A few months ago I was at a scholarship reception and person serving us told me of a person she knew who had to switch her job because she was bullied. Meanwhile a second study showed that childhood bullies were likely to become criminals. I myself have been bullied of those across multiple age groups - from those whose also born in 1996 to ex-aunts, ex-uncles and a former history teacher. To them, was bullying simply a phase of childhood? I think not.

Myth two: Bullying strengthens its victims.
Also proven false. Those having been bullied are likelier to have health difficulties. Those bullied in the workplace have "stress-related-problems." We also cannot discount those that have committed suicide from bullying, those that never had a chance to 'get over it.' I myself still have shudders from my tenth-grade History teacher forcing me to endure violent movies, the right to promote Autistic dignity unlearned.

I have noticed that one of the biggest factors in bullying is ignorance. Yes, we've heard "Don't be a bystander. Speak up." When bullied in elementary school, I told teachers and yet the situation worsened until I begun high school in another area. (A similar situation happened for a friend who left earlier to Oshawa.) Just turn to Google News and you'll find recounts of parents that told authorities who claimed they could not stop the situation. What about the 62% of employers that are told about workplace bullying but do not act on it?

Yes. It is easy to live without doing the difficult. It is easy to live attempting to believe that structures are working well, that the person reporting workplace harassment is overacting or that kids will grow out of what they are doing. Yet we cannot end bullying without acknowledging it. We cannot end bullying without confronting it, without taking the extra few stories up a CN Tower-analagous staircase, without exerting our courage against a fear of put-downs, of 'getting involved,' a fear analagous to the pull of gravity. Yet take a look at the world. We've come several stories up the staircase with anti-bullying initiatives and bullying sometimes in the spotlight on Google News. I already suspect my twitter feed will overcrowd from #DayofPink. I see many leaders and ordinary persons alike with the ability to implement and improve bullying prevention training in workplaces or stand up to the next person uttering a slur. Sticking to my CN Tower analogy, we all have the potential to reach the tip of the tower in communicating for a discrimination- and harrassment-free tomorrow. The stop starts with us.

- FA
Holding a CCGSD Day of Pink button in my pen-ink-stained hand.

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Thursday, 2 April 2015

World Autism Day 2015

Wearing purple for World Autism
Day today

Finally. World Autism Day 2015.

It's been a day of substituting a teal spring jacket for two hoodies. Wearing as much violet as I can. Noticing the CN Tower reflect 8:30 AM rays. Noticing that its glass windows reflect blue in the daytime. Other than that, it feels it is an ordinary day. Lectures, tutorials, email inboxes, twitter feeds, excitement that a train I boarded today had a a different subway chime . . . Yet Toronto's own Mark Saunders has tweeted to Autism Speaks. Yesterday had I looked south on my commute home from an evening tutorial, I might have seen the steel needlepoint-and-disc-shaped tower and its blue photons. I imagine it wouldn't have been a pleasant view. I therefore address each of you today.

To those that are Autistic, there is nothing wrong with you. Having Autism demonstrates that you are awesome. Let's combine this further and call you 'awetsome.' Maybe you can't look a person in the cornea. Maybe you don't use your voice to speak. Maybe you have a hearing sensitivity so strong that you couldn't concentrate on your studies on the bus for two minutes because several loud teenagers boarded the bus. In the long run they are not your weaknesses but your strengths. For example, my hearing sensitivity gives me the ability to work with the songs I like on my musical keyboard. Your talents, passions and qualities therefore do not make you part of an endemic or a pandemic, but humanity. Today I celebrate you.

To those that aren't Autistic but support Autistic individuals for whom we are, give yourself a pat on the back. (Or if you're not comfortable with patting yourself on the back, go buy yourself some non-Lindt chocolate.) Autism acceptance does not take only one Autistic or one person, but both Autistics and non-Autistics to manifest to reality. I am grateful to have witnessed such a reality in several people. Thank you for smiling at our strengths and regarding our weaknesses as traits to complement our personalities rather than hindrances to our lives. You make the world a better place to be. Keep it up.

To those of you that believe Autism is an illness to be cured, it is time to identify the neurons in your head synapsing "illness," "disease," "pandemic," "epidemic," "cure," "hopeless," "incompassionate," and "missing" and halt your synapse in their tracks. Begin the electric potential in the neurons which recognize words such as "talented," "complete," "person," "diverse," and the phrase "worth it." Do you believe your negativity raises awareness? Think again. It only propagates hatred for something which need not be disliked. They say two negatives make a positive, but negative-one subtract one only makes negative two. It's time you learned to add.

To those of you that hear upon curing on your SONY or Panasonic screens, your iPhone showing your local newspaper
Union Station on the Yonge-University-Spadina

(whether it be the Toronto Star, CBC or otherwise) or just walked past the Geneva Centre for Autism on an ordinary day in Toronto, and have neither internalized Autism positivity nor negativity, you have two choices. First, you can see us as disorders. Those that will never fit into society. A person that will not say "I love you" to a mother and maybe cannot love. A child whose social skills are at the point that she knows the stations on Toronto's Yonge-University-Spadina line more than she knows her own classmates. Is it worth a trip down the YUS to Geneva? A teenager who can't stand movies because she's too sensitive for their violence and how in the world is she going to survive a university program where one is repeatedly warned to never break a bridge? Yet you have another choice, and that is to understand us as human beings rather than assume us as collections of failure. The person that couldn't communicate using sound could still communicate, for the person had emotions and social media. (Only the tip of the iceberg to non-verbal communication.) The child that didn't say "I love you" felt it. The subway-loving child grew up to reroute her commute the night a station on her route closed and shuttle bus lineups packed the station. The adult who found friends that understood her including one that asked that the volume be turned down in a loud restaurant so both could enjoy a falafel plate. You have the choice to build or hinder a community of Autism digintiy, of Autism acceptance.

In fact you all have the choice - and potential - to build or hinder such a community. In such a community it is time to become an architect.

- FA

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