Community-Based Research Program

The OPIRG Community-Based Research Program assists and connects students and community groups wishing to conduct research related to social, economic and environmental justice. OPIRG supports research which adds to our knowledge and helps us to call for or create policies, services or resources which bettter address the needs of our diverse community and ecosystem.

2018/2019 will be the last year of the Community Based Research (CBR) Program, as we know it. Ontario Public Interest Research Group has been badly affected by the “student choice initiative” decisions made by the Ontario Government.  

The students choice initiative “will allow undergrad students to opt out of all student fees save for athletics and recreation, thus putting a lot of campus groups at risk for losing as much as 50 per cent of their current funding” (A., 2019). Among those groups will be campus radios, newspapers, and PIRGS.

OPIRG at the University of Ottawa was founded by a student referendum on November 10, 1977 with support from over 75% of student voters. Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) have existed throughout Ontario, across Canada, and all over the U.S. since their foundation by Ralph Nader in 1971 (opirg-gripo, n.d.). PIRGS through Ontario started to be created in 1973 looking at environmental and social justice issues. PIRGS are the first “activist” home for students. They are exposed to all sorts of issues, not only the ones that brought them there. They begin to understand the complex connections between environmental and social justice issues. Different dynamic tension exists within each PIRG in its struggle to be an effective activist organization while accommodating the inexperience of young activists (Cameron, 1998). 

Despite the young age of PIRGS activists, these groups have been able to achieve great goals including supporting efforts to preserve natural resources, support indigenous people and marginalized groups in their fight against systemic oppression, create awareness and training about systemic oppression and decolonization. These groups have been holding accountable governments at all levels by campaigning against raising bus fares, lobbying against pipelines, marching to support Palestinian rights, marching against cuts in education and health, protesting against police brutality, standing in support with indigenize people and marginalized groups. Students may be part of action groups, hired for a specific project through a government grant programme, serve as a member of the board of directors, participate in research for credit programmes (where they receive course credit for work in the community), or network with other activists or groups in the community. They may be digging up information, developing popular education material, so then can create awareness or write policy papers to make governments to change/implement some of the recommendations. Regardless of the form, students are making changes in the communities where they have chosen to study (1998). 

Since 2014 OPIRG Ottawa has created space for 300 students through our research program. The program has involved students in a range of research activities from doing literature revisions to talk with community members about actions to be taken to solve community problems. Students supported the organizing of the first Summit on Statelessness in Canada as well as canvasing for signing petitions to have a low income bus pass or affordable housing by the new LRT stations. Students, with their work, have protected the Chaudière Falls against Zibi developers, by collecting information from archives to support Indigenous claims to that land. Students have developed environmental petitions to raise awareness about textile waste. These are some of the examples among all the work we have done. 

As a research coordinator, I have written countless letters of reference so students could apply to jobs, graduate programs and scholarships. I have also provided letters of reference for community members and academics. 

Since 2015 we have provided 13 term full time positions to students through different grants that we have been able to receive. We have partnered with stakeholders and university professors to apply for grants with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Trillium Foundation and others. We have received a SSHRC grant “Integrating Equity in Transport: Barriers and Strategies at the Planning Stage”, that grant is in partnership with the Healthy Transportation Coalition and the University of Manitoba. We are planning to hire at least two students to support the work of the grant. We have also received a grant with the Trillium Foundation, People Improving Transportation Equity, Inclusion & Connectivity. This grant is in partnership with Healthy Transportation Coalition, CAWI, and the Geography Department. This grant has also budgeted money to hire several students during the life of the grant.Our research has been published in different forms, including book chapters and journal articles, as well as editors’ letters, magazines and social media.

We have given Decolonization and Anti-Oppression trainings to countless classes from different departments including Geography, Human Kinetics, Criminology. We have also run trainings for community organizations such as Youth Engagement Committee Ottawa, #LawNeedsFeminismBecause, Housing Services (University of Ottawa), among others.

We are happy and proud of the OPIRG’s achievements of the community research program. We have lived to the expectations of the program engaging withcivil society organizing and challenging the systemic oppression of the state. We have been raised and educated to obey authority in a very hierarchical and individualistic society. PIRGs offer an environment where students can challenge those dominant discourses and forces. Those are good enough reasons for having so many attempts/campaigns to defund PIRGs. During the last four years, conservatives were not able to defeat us by vote (referendum to defund us) leading them to instead attempt defunding through ministry policy under Ontario’s Tuition Fee Framework (Crosby, 2019). This policy will damage students as well as student unions for years to come. The policy has been inspired, as Crosby mentioned, by the policies implemented in Australia (Voluntary Student Unionism) and in New Zealand (Voluntary Student Memberships) (VSMs). In both cases the results have devastated student organizations and unions, leaving them as contractors of the administration or just closing their doors after exhausting their reserve funds  (Crosby, 2019).

Only students will have the capacity to bring activism back to campus, by engaging on volunteer a basis and fighting against the status-quo the “Student choice initiative” will create. A university with no place for activism, reflection, challenge or accountability. A place where students are going to be mere spectators of the decisions that are made in their name, while they become part of the mechanism which makes them to finance and support the establishment.  This is a call for all of our rainbow warriors to keep actively resisting systemic oppression.

For more information, please contact OPIRG’s Research Coordinator at


Addressing social and environmental issues on campus through OPIRG’s garden

Relationships are one of the most significant aspects of life that fuel human well-being. We are a social species, but we also depend on the land to survive, whether it be in an instrumental or intrinsic way. However, the Western ideology and modernism have deteriorated these relationships with the land and we see ourselves becoming more distant as we surround ourselves with concrete structures and close our minds off to the natural environment.

Those of us keen to maintain these relationships look to Indigenous peoples as stewards of the land who can guide us in this journey. However, they are no more responsible for this land than the settlers that came and assumed responsibility of it but did not respect their treaties. And so, there is a role to play for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in rejuvenating the environment and working toward amending past wrongdoings.

Reconciliation has become the new buzzword and is often a tokenistic effort that holds little value in the eyes of Indigenous peoples. There is a lack of action and effort to build genuine social and environmental relationships. Considering both these environmental and social justice concerns, OPIRG has been working to transform the Learning Garden into a space for “reconciliaction”, attempting to move beyond tokenism.

This garden space is meant to provide a platform for non-Indigenous and Indigenous students to build social relationships as it will be designed as a gathering space for both academic and non-academic purposes. It aims to invite classrooms and extracurricular groups to use the space and coordinate workshops that involve working with the land. For example, guest speakers with knowledge about medicinal plants or traditional practices may be invited to host a lecture in this garden space.

Furthermore, to also cultivate environmental relationships, the space will be designed with a medicine wheel and plants that reflect Indigenous culture such as corn, beans and squash (the three sisters). Including these plants will provide a space for Indigenous students to learn about their culture and language, and also use the medicines.

Currently, OPIRG has been approaching professors from various departments to support the project by considering to use our space to hold lessons or conduct research with their students, such as soil testing. The group has also been building relationships with the Indigenous Resource Center on campus and has been working with them to advance this project. 

Through some of our discussions we have realized that the uOttawa campus needs space to address these severed relationships and support such projects that also contribute to improving the mental health of its students. The campus location in the downtown core and the university’s goal to build more concrete buildings creates a stressful environment and offers no space for students to engage with each other and the land. Values such as respect and care can only be fostered through these vital spaces, and new ideas and relationships can be forged by creating a productive and safe environment for students and the staff on campus. Connecting with the wider Ottawa community through such spaces can also help students network and engage more meaningfully with the community rather than being confined to classroom spaces when on campus.

This garden has much potential to address a variety of issues concerning the environment, Indigenous relations and health.  It offers a unique opportunity for students and staff to work outside their silos and collaborate in a meaningful way. The garden can connect humans as one species, acknowledging that everyone has a responsibility to take care of the land and one another.

“May the relationship between man and nature not be driven by greed, to manipulate and exploit, but may the divine harmony between beings and creation be conserved in the logic of respect and care.” Pope Francis —General audience, Vatican City, April 22, 2015

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Researching the surveillance of activism on campus  Padraic O’Brien

We have witnessed an increasing use of surveillance and repressive mechanisms by the state in our society, whether through the use of “anti-terror” legislation such as the federal government’s Bill C-51 in 2015, or the uncontrolled mining of people’s electronic data through internet networks. The methods and intensity of repression and surveillance also tend to vary according to the groups and communities that are targeted. In the recent past for example in western countries, people of Muslim background have thus been particularly targeted, not only by legislation and various surveillance measures, but also directly through the discourse of government officials. At the University of Ottawa, this trend was brought to our attention in 2017-2018 when a Palestinian solidarity campaign emerged on campus and pushed for the student body to take a position in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanction against Israeli settlements in Palestine. This prompted OPIRG to look into the surveillance of activism on campus and try to find if the grassroots organizing efforts we support are facing with any kind of threat from the administration or beyond.

The research project started simply as an effort to find concrete information about how the university administration was monitoring activism on campus. In order to do so, one of our staff members carried out an Access to Information request, following the guidelines outlined on the university website and as set out by the access to information legislation governing all public institutions. We determined a number of activist groups and campaigns that have been active over the last few years at the University of Ottawa, and submitted requests for each of them about any internal communication with associated key words. While some requests were met with little or no content, our request for the BDS campaign did draw some material which allowed us to look deeper in the university’s response to the political activism of students.

We decided to take the research further with regards to the Palestinian solidarity component by opening a placement for students to take the material and explore it more in-depth. In order to conduct their research, they interviewed activists who were involved in the BDS campaign on campus, while going through a series of readings on surveillance of activism on university campuses in general, including a book about the history of RCMP surveillance in Canadian universities.

The result is an overview of the surveillance of activists on campus as experienced by activists who were involved in the most high-profile campaign seen in the last few years at uOttawa.

Complete article can be seen at OPIRG Zine 2019

What we do with our Textile Waste

Grace Andic, Irene Choi, Meranda Gallupe-Paton, Teke Rerri, Vivian Walsh, and Stephanie Wright)

The topic of textile waste has been extensively studied in the academic community. As this issue is extremely multi-faceted, there are many perspectives to be explored. For the purpose of clarity it is important to determine a functional definition of textile waste. According to recent academic literature, “textile waste consists of all types of garments or household articles made of textiles that the owner no longer needs and decides to discard” (Domina & Koch, 1999, p. 347). This would include a wide range of items that are made of fabric or cloth. Despite the fact that most textile materials are recyclable, they often are not properly recycled and result in textile waste (Domina & Koch, 1999, p. 347). The Council for Textile Recycling found that “approximately 4.5 kilograms per capita or 1,136,363 tonnes of post-consumer textile waste is recycled annually” (Domina & Koch, 1999, p. 347). However, this waste is often sold for profit or discarded in landfills (Domina & Koch, 2010, p. 347-378). The US Environmental Protection Agency also found that “about 5% of waste in US landfills is textile waste” with similar statistics estimated in Canada (Lynes, Weber & Young, 2017, p. 208). Landfills cause an array of adverse environmental effects, thus decreasing the amount of textiles in landfills should be a worldwide priority.

The academic literature surrounding the topic of textile waste places importance on the role of the fashion industry in the process of consumption and disposal. One researcher argues that increased purchasing of clothing, and the consequent generation of textile waste, is due to the fact that clothing “has generally become less expensive for consumers” (Lynes, Weber & Young, 2017, p. 207). A key term in this regard is “fast fashion” (Claudio, 2007, p. 449). Fast fashion is a consumer trend in the fashion industry that pertains to elements of the marketplace that deliberately create the need for new clothes more often (Claudio, 2007, p. 448). This is reinforced by characteristics of the fashion industry such as fashion magazines and shopping malls (Claudio, 2007, p. 449). In essence, fast fashion encourages consumers to purchase clothes based on factors other than necessity and thus creating a trend of excess disposal. This increases the amount of material that is produced and disposed of, which generates a “potential environmental […] hazard” (Claudio, 2007, p. 449). In this way, the fashion industry and consumer habits are an integral aspect of the textile waste discussion. The study by Weber, Lynes and Young examined the attitudes of residents in Ontario in relation to textile waste and their interest in fashion (Weber et al., 2017, p. 207). Researchers asked respondents about their attitudes towards fashion consumption to place them on a “high” or “low fashion index” (Weber et al., 2017, p. 207). The study then correlated respondents’ fashion index scoring with their disposal habits, finding that both high and low fashion index respondents expressed the same willingness to donate their clothing while habits of disposal were higher among fashion consumers (Weber et al., 2017, p. 213). Although, high fashion consumers were also more likely to participate in methods of garment exchange such as clothing swaps, reselling and take-back programs (Weber et al., 2017, p. 213). Fashion culture has been demonstrated to have a direct impact on the increase in textile waste in recent years.

As textile waste clearly has a damaging impact, other alternatives must be introduced to prevent further deterioration to the environment. In an article by Farrant, Olsen and Wangel, the importance of reusing clothes and buying them second-hand is explored (Farrant, et. al., 2010, p. 726). Both actions are proven to have a beneficial impact on the environment (Farrant, et. al., 2010, p. 726). The study conducted found that the “purchase of 100 second-hand garments would save between 60 and 85 new garments” from being produced (Farrant, et. al., 2010, p. 726). By buying new clothing from fast fashion stores, consumers are encouraging companies to produce more clothing through unsustainable means. While second-hand shopping is better than buying new clothing, there are still negative impacts of buying second-hand clothes. It has been shown “that the collection, processing, and transport of second-hand clothing has insignificant impacts on the environment”, meaning that while purchasing second-hand clothing could be less detrimental than buying new clothing, it does not reverse the negative impacts on the environment (Farrant, et. al., 2010, p. 726). Though second-hand shopping is an alternative to purchasing new garments, these measures should be further investigated to effectively fight textile waste.

While another proposed alternative to disposing of old clothing is donation, this method is not always the most ethical. Beneath the surface, things are not always as they seem. The act of donating clothes through improper channels can disrupt foreign countries through exportation or damage the environment through landfills (Bain, 2016). Some organizations that collect donated clothing resell the clothes to developing countries  “creating a glut of cheap garments that […] has choked off local textiles and garment industries” (Bain, 2016). While donation to certain organizations can help extend the usage of clothing, other organizations actually contribute to the production of textile waste abroad.

In order to combat further potential damage, people must be aware of the profound effects of participating in fast fashion culture and contributing to the output of textile waste. In a study performed by Dibb, Harris and Roby, the authors addressed the general “limited awareness” of consumers regarding the “sustainability impact of clothing” (Dibb, et. al., 2016, p. 309). The research revealed a “focus on sustainability alone” to change consumer behaviour is insufficient due to the complexity of clothing sustainability, the diverse ethical concerns of consumers, and the non-altruistic nature of purchasing clothing (Dibb, et. al., 2016, p. 309). This research highlights the detrimental effects of consumers’ lack of awareness concerning the “sustainability issues in clothing care” (Dibb, et. al., 2016, p. 309). This research reveals that the ethics surrounding the purchasing and disposal of clothing is not as linear as many consumers believe.

There are many factors found that contribute to a person’s ethical understanding of clothing purchasing and disposal, some of which include the influence of family and education. This was noted in the study done by Joung and Park-Poap as they analysed the impact of family on sustainability habits (Joung & Park-Poap 2013, p. 105) . Clothings habits are formed over our lifetime; “it is necessary to develop a culture of recycling (e.g. behavioural norms) during early childhood stages of the life cycle […] both environmentally motivated donation and resale behaviours were influenced by subjective norms of family but not friends” (Joung & Park-Poap 2013, p. 110). Therefore, tendencies in clothing reuse and recycling may reflect a great degree of variance among university students as they are more influenced by their family than their peers. They also suggest that “higher education should include the importance of preserving natural resources by emphasizing the benefits of engaging in recycling” (Joung & Park-Poap 2013, p. 110). This point is particularly poignant in relation to our study since the University of Ottawa is considered to be a very environmentally conscious campus.

Overall, the existing academic canon explores various aspects of the textile waste issue. Researchers have outlined the detrimental impact of textile materials in landfills, the influence of the fashion industry, and explored more ethical consumer habits.


OPIRG Textile Waste project

By Kali Kincaid

The ultimate goal of this project is to prevent all textiles from ending up in landfills and learning how to reduce, reuse, and recycle your clothing. By starting with a population such as a university, these students can take the information learned and carry it with them in the future and potentially pass it on to their children. We have been working on partnerships with local charities where clothing donated by students can be better used. This organization is reconstructing the built environment locally through giving students the opportunity to be responsible for where their clothes end up. We are in turn helping those around Ottawa to have the basic necessities that they otherwise would not be able to afford. There is a very large population of students at the University of Ottawa and if they all use our donation bins instead of donating them to large corporations, none of these clothes will end up shipped overseas. Most of the clothes thrown away still have many years left in their life and we can decrease the pollution of these ending up in landfills. We are reconstructing relationships between places near and far by realizing the effects of textile waste and preventing our waste from becoming a third-world country’s waste. The shipment of our waste to the south is causing issues with their economy, especially with their own clothing industries. We need to stop polluting the world we live in and we need to start educating and researching the effects of textile-waste in each country. We do not have the room to store our trash. Landfills are overflowing and the clothing industry is so massive that much of the landfill is cloth material. If more universities and cities can work together, we can create bigger recycling companies that focus specifically on textiles as well as more direct clothing donations that stay in the community. This would cause less pollution than what we are currently doing and make each community a better and more sustainable place.


Ottawa Organizations for cloth donations

Carty House 613-236-8855 Gives to female refugees WOMEN ONLY Clothing, Bedding, Books, towels, appliances, household items, cleaning supplies
  613-591-6681 Refugees Household items, furniture
May Court Club (613) 733-235-0333   clothing, linens, jewlery, household items
Sustainable Eastern Ontario 1-888-385-1154      
Operation Come Home       Can post on Social Media for us.


“Safe and inclusive protest space for everyone: Women and the Occupy Movement”

In July 2011, protesters occupied major streets and parks in many American and Canadian cities. They did this to protest and raise awareness of corporate greed and the lack of social justice, both locally and internationally. The occupation movement was anarchist, horizontal and non-hierarchical, and female protesters were on the front lines and were performing all kinds of tasks.  Female protesters hoped that these camps would be free of misogyny, sexism, white supremacy and harassment. However, various famous female activists in North America published their testimonies about women experiencing both psychological and physical harassment (sometimes rape), or facing a considerable amount of misogyny and sexism.

Despite that fact, the numerous art projects and scholarly works about the occupy movement either ignore or minimize how  female protesters were often marginalized by their fellow protesters. Therefore, This interdisciplinary research/artistic project aims to accomplish the following goals:

  • Document the sexual violations and harassment experienced by female protesters in the Occupy Movement’s protest camps in 2011;
  • Develop strategies for safe and inclusive spaces for women to participate in protest movements; and
  • Amplify the voices of the female protesters who were silenced in various protest camps.   

We will first conduct archival research and qualitative

“Stories From Ottawa (Comic Booklet about Migrants)”

My research project with OPIRG consisted of the creation, publication and distribution of a comic book, titled Stories from Ottawa. The comics offer a contemporary, non-conforming and feminine interpretation of migration in the context of my own settlement story. The story unfolds to reveal many emotional, physical and evocative moments, leading into a sharp critique of  the very state-oriented and market-oriented concepts of “migrant” and “new comer”. The comic book challenges the inadequacy of the host city/culture/society,  and shows how the experiences of “migrants” and “new comers” may be hugely affected by negative perceptions in the host population regarding the success and social inclusion of migrants.  These negative perceptions lead to the creation of preventable social and cultural problems.

The aim of this project is to help emerging artists and activists to engage in story telling in various forms as a means for creating awareness and inclusivity.  This story telling can take place at community events and workshops in Ottawa and we can create some of these events and workshops.

From December 2016 to January 2017, I submitted the comic project to two different publishers: Creators for Creators (from the USA) and Adastra Comics (from Canada). I applied to Creators for Creators because they provide up to 30,000 dollars of funding for successful candidates to complete their projects. I applied to Adastra Comics because of their mandate to publish comics about socio–political struggle. Neither application was successful, but Adastra Comics suggested a few technical improvements which I shall make before finishing the entire book and re-submitting it. Another possibility is publishing the comics in zine format, but at this point, with the academic year coming to an end, it seems more professional and effective to begin improving on the existing comics and try approaching other publishing companies for next academic year.

I would like to thank OPIRG for recognizing my understanding of the dichotomy between formal representation and lived experience of migration, as well for the provided funding which in the long run will help to open avenues for better and broader inclusion of qualitative, participatory and non-linear methods in social research. I believe that we should remain persistent with providing grassroots platforms to those interested in telling their stories, in unique ways and forms, and the prolongation of this project should only encourage us to build our networks, bring potential authors together and make ready a community of story tellers for the coming year.

#MaketheShift (Right to housing)”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing serves the international community, and their mandate is to promote the full realization of adequate housing as an essential component of the right to an adequate standard of living. The Special Rapporteur works in both domestic and international contexts to identify best practices and concerns and obstacles regarding the full realization of the right to adequate housing. Moreover, the Special Rapporteur works to provide practical solutions with regard to the implementation of the right to housing. This is done through tools like the Plain Language Reports. This will be the focus of the research presented in this proposal. Plain Language Reports are also a tool to disseminate information and engage communities.

In our working group about the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, we focused on the effectiveness and the availability of the Special Rapporteur’s message found within her reports on The Right to Housing and Homelessness and the indivisibility of the Right to Housing and the Right to Life. In this process, we have developed a series of postcards that will be combined with a social media campaign named #MaketheShift. The students have also collected personal testimonies from people all over the world on what housing means to them. We hope to create a short film with these testimonies for an upcoming strategy meeting hosted by the Special Rapporteur. The film and the postcards will be presented in this strategic meeting to a representative of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, ActionAid, Habitat International Coalition (HIC), representatives of the Canadian government, and more.

We believe the work carried out in the last four months will have a great impact on the spread of the Special Rapporteur’s message. We also hope that we have exposed the students to practical knowledge dissemination tools, as well as to the exciting world of international human rights.

The Collective Intercultural Community Kitchen (CICK)”

The Collective Intercultural Community Kitchen (CICK) members enjoy gathering together to cook, eat, discuss and socialize in spite of focusing on the crisis in our community. Independence and empowerment are the main values for our group, we have gone through a long journey to achieve that.

The CICK started as a program of Lowertown Good Neighbours Community House (LGNCH) in 2014 as a response of Food Security Strategic Priority. We partnered with OPIRG for student to support us in the process of figuring out what the strenghths of the program were and plan for action for the future. This piece of research helped us to realize our own strengths and the independence that we could have in developing of a program that would suit us.

After our CICK meeting in June 2016, we were informed that  Lowertown Resource Centre (LRC) was going to take over the LGNCH and it was going to be in effect immediately. Our director lost her job in June 2016. Our Board of Directors was disbanded in August 2016. The control of the house as well as our funds, were transferred to the LRC for the provisionary director to administer.

As far as we knew, there was no prior community consultation for this transfer. A petition sponsored by volunteers and signed by 200 people addressed to city counsellor Matthieu Fleury, was ignored.

The funds to support CICK that were received from OPIRG also were transferred to LRC, causing difficulties for us to get the money to buy food for our monthly cooking. This disruption caused the meetings to be suspended; a direct effect was attendance to drop. A new program coordinator was hired to supervise activities at the LGNCH. Members of the CICK met with her and even though she appeared to understand the independence of the program and promised to write up a contract for CICK to sign; in practice she interfered with CICK activities, handling signing sheets and waiver to the participants, inflicting an intern on the program without even asking the group if they wanted to have a students participating in the CICK activities.

At this time we are looking for alternative meeting places. CICK has continued using space at the LGNCH. It is a constant struggle to maintain our independence and our social ease under the bureaucratic approach of the LRC. Their overseer treatment is detrimental to community growth and to community dignity and therefore adverse to the purpose of CICK.


“Chaudiere Falls and its’ Islands International Dimensions”

The recognition of indigenous rights and land claims has become a central and sensitive topic in today’s society, for many countries including Canada. Many countries and governments are trying to find ways to recognize and work with their indigenous populations and their claims, while still trying to maintain and promote economic development and stability. The Algonquin Nation is currently trying to reclaim their rights for the Chaudière Falls land, as it is set to be developed by the Windmill Development Group and Dream Unlimited Corporation. The development group is planning on building new world-class condominiums and low rise buildings next to Chaudiere Falls.  One of its islands, Victoria Island, holds special and important meaning to the Algonquin Indigenous people. This island was a meeting place for negotiating peace between Indigenous populations from across Canada. Victoria Island and the Chaudière Falls were, and still are, considered a sacred site to these Indigenous population and specifically those of the local Algonquin Nation.

     Relations between Nation-states and their Indigenous populations are still proving to be a problematic and difficult in today’s world. Although progress has been made in recognizing the rights of Indigenous in many countries, in many cases the rights and history of the Indigenous populations is ignored, overlooked, or rarely works out in their favour. More often there are new cases of Indigenous rights and land being violated being brought to our attention by the media. In a globalized world, it is easier to see the steps and stance other countries are taking in working with and recognizing the rights of their Indigenous populations. Some countries and Indigenous groups have chosen to try and work out disputes between themselves, while other Indigenous groups have felt the need to seek assistance from the international community such as the United Nations for aid. UNDRIP is a good example of steps countries can take to preserve the interests of its Indigenous nations, while working to repair relationships. It is important that nation-states around the world learn from each other experiences and mistakes, and find a way to cooperate and respectfully work with their Indigenous populations.

Condos and Hydro Expansion: How Green compared with Restoration?

The Zibi development, as described in their master plan, would be an urban “eco-community”, under the non-independently verified “green” development label, called One Planet Living. This label has some subjective targets in terms of the management of ecological health, such as reducing wastes and energy consumption. These goals of the somewhat greenwashed plan could lessen the ecological damage to the region, promoting sustainability and the lack of introduction of anthropogenic environmental modification into the river. However, this development is ultimately demands the urbanisation, and destruction of habitat of the region.  “Urbanisation represents another intensive land use, with strong effects on freshwater biodiversity, resulting in consistent declines in the richness of algal, invertebrate, and fish communities” (Paul and Meyer, 2001). Also, “human land use, in particular urbanisation and intensified agriculture, are widely recognised as major threats to freshwater biodiversity worldwide.” (MEA, 2005; Dudgeon et al., 2006; Vörösmarty et al., 2010) and have been found to impact the integrity of freshwater ecosystems. These detrimental effects also apply to the expansion of the hydro dam, by Energy Ottawa. Through the expansion of this dam, the ecological effects as mentioned earlier would be accentuated. The alteration of flow regimes is often claimed to be the one of the most prevalent and continuous threat to the ecological sustainability of rivers and their associated wetlands (Naiman and others 1995, Sparks 1995, Lundqvist 1998, Ward and others 1999). However, some steps are being taken to manage the ecology of the river, such as a proposed fish ladder, and possible implementation of spawning beds past the dam. Both developments may consider lessening damage, but do not compare to if the region was unaltered and in equilibrium.


“Maximum security penitentiary: human right violations”

This project was looking resources that were dealing with violations of human rights throughout Federal institutions in Canada. Through investigating specific institutions, their regulations and past violations of these regulations, we were able to get a better understanding of how each institution operates versus how each institution should operate.

After doing some collection of information we were able to summarize several issues within the prison system concerning: mental health struggles not being addressed, Indigenous prisoners without access to programs, a lack of access to religious materials and many others. From this, we set out to provide inmates with as much information as possible to challenge these breaches in human rights.

We were able to gather examples of human rights acts in both national and international legislation; as well as real life examples of human rights violations in penal institutions in court; to discover “how” inmates could realistically make claims on their own behalf.

Our findings were astounding. We were able to analyze documents such as the CCRA, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, etc. The documents that pertained to inmate’s concerns; entitlement to equal access to health care, refrain from cruel and inhuman punishment, religious freedom, and more. Some examples of past legal cases were found, for example, in the case of Mcmaster v. Canada, the inmate tore his medial meniscus ligament, after repeatedly receiving shoes that did not fit. He took the case to court and succeeded. These examples could serve as a helpful comparison for inmates, when deciding the likely success of taking their own concerns to court. The goal of this project is to help those without voices demand the rights that they deserve.


Healthy Transportation Coalition

University of Ottawa students continue to volunteer and work to bring improvements to lower income neighbourhoods in Ottawa, through a variety of actions intended to help make communities better for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users.

Significant accomplishments have included convincing the City of Ottawa to introduce a monthly transit pass for people living on low incomes. The EquiPass, to be introduced in April 2017, will cost $57 per month, and support for it was gained by students who helped in the collection of 3,000 signatures on a petition calling on the City to create the pass. The EquiPass should help part-time students, in addition to thousands of working poor people, and others struggling to afford the necessities of life.

The Healthy Transportation Coalition has helped to coordinate these activities and in some cases students have been hired to work at OPIRG in a paid position for the summer months to do outreach in the lower income neighbourhoods the Coalition is working in.

The six neighbourhoods (Heron Gate, Bayshore, Vanier North, Cummings, Bells Corners West, Hawthorne Meadows) were selected thanks to an analysis provided by Dr. Elizabeth Kristjansson and the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. Kristjansson is a full Professor in the School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa. She is a health measurement expert whose place-based research focuses on the socio-economic determinants of health. Data she provided detailed the 15 neighbourhoods in Ottawa that are the least socio-economically advantaged as well as the neighbourhoods with the worst walkability.

Students with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) knowledge and skills then helped create maps of the neighbourhoods that showed what existed in terms of pedestrian, cycling, and public transit infrastructure, and what was planned in terms of improvements between the present day and 2031, according to the City’s Transportation Master Plan. The Coalition then prioritized which six neighbourhoods to work in, based on which of the 15 neighbourhoods did not seem to be prioritized for many improvements.

In the months and years ahead, the Healthy Transportation Coalition hopes to work with the City to ensure the following improvements are made:

a)Inclusive PUBLIC TRANSIT: OC Transpo single fare discount for low-income people, reduced cost EquiPass ($42/month), on-line booking system for Para Transpo, similar to Wheel-Trans Online Trip Booking system in Toronto

  1. b) CYCLISTS, PEDESTRIANS: We need excellent safe cycling, pedestrian connections from low income neighbourhoods to Rapid Transit Stations from 5 km distance

c)Affordable housing in Transit-Oriented Developments around LRT Stations, ensuring the ‘air space’ the City owns is filled with as much affordable housing as possible

d)HOW TO HELP PAY FOR IT: Study road user fees, that low income people would be exempt from paying

 The involvement of student volunteers in working to achieve these policy priorities will help ensure they are realized more quickly than would otherwise be the case.

 Ongoing volunteer and potential summer job opportunities for students should continue for the months and years ahead. For more information, please don’t hesitate to learn more about the Coalition at www.healthytransportation.caor contact

OPIRG Zine: “Untungling the Colonial Mind”


This year, OPIRG’s Zine has featured work under the umbrella of “Untangling the Colonial Mind”. The title gave us the opportunity to describe different opportunities to describe how different initiatives are challenging and decolonizing ways of being, thinking, feeling, and especially learning. The Zine acknowledged the unsurrended and unceded Anishnaabe territory, which included a description of the Algonquin Territory according to the sacred information held by medicine-man Jacob (Mowega) Wawatie.

A section of the Zine was dedicated to the way indigenous cultures interpreted reality and that could be used to face contemporary impasses.

Fractals were included in every page of the Zine as a way of opening our minds to explain natural interactions, keep stories alive and define the cosmos; something that indigenous people have done for millennia. The last part of the Zine was devoted to specific projects and their attempts to decolonize the oppressive architecture of patriarchy-colonialism-capitalism. The pieces featured in this Zine challenged perceptions of free market ideologies trying to privatize Common educational and health care systems. A new issue of the Zine will be published before the summer.


“Mapping Statelessness in Canada”

This year OPIRG has partnered with a Claire Delisle  part time professor from Criminology and Jocelyn Cane from the Canadian Centre on Statelessness to apply for a Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant. The project intends to address the location and extent of statelessness in Canada, to collaboratively explore the lived consequences of stateless people, and to create a space where concerned stakeholders may come together to deepen research investigations, relationships among different people and groups affected by or advocating around, this issue. The project would be an opportunity to collaboratively produce research findings that stand to deepen knowledge and raise awareness of statelessness in Canada.

There are many ways that people can become stateless, including those born in Canada, and those who have migrated to Canada. The State neither protects stateless people who are inside its borders, whether born in Canada or not, nor provides a legislative pathway to entry for those who are stateless outside of Canada and who wish to enter. Further, newly revamped legislation has increased the possibility of citizenship revocation, which can render Canadians stateless.

This partnership provides an opportunity to bring together research expertise (University of Ottawa), a major advocate for eradicating statelessness (CCS) and a community-based activist and research organization (OPIRG). To continue this work, we are seeking to mobilize needed resources that can be used for learning, for networking with others, and for research assistantships and placements for graduate and undergraduate students. The relationship among these organizations is based on mutual respect and understanding, and founded on social justice principles such as openness, inclusivity, and action-oriented and participatory approaches. The project is also in discussion with the Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC) at the University of Ottawa, with a view to participating in some of their activities, while retaining an independent status. We also plan to develop, in collaboration with the Centre, an undergraduate course on statelessness at the University of Ottawa. MSC partners are committed to the project and to investing this domain in a way that will provide a space to devise meaningful strategies to eradicate the phenomenon.


The First Summit on Statelessness in Canada

The First Summit on Statelessness in Canada was held on February 24, 2016 at University of Ottawa. The Summit was organized by the Canadian Centre on Statelessness, The University of Ottawa, Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Ottawa, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)

The objective of this first summit was to discuss statelessness in Canadian context and examine critical developments in research, law and community engagement on statelessness. The conference created an opportunity to in-depth discussion on the issues of statelessness in Canada highlighting some cases, explaining their legal approaches and efforts to resolve their status. The Summit also featured insights from stateless individuals and organizations that have been actively involved in supporting individuals who are or were statelessness. These cases reveal complex and layered situations challenging existing notions of citizenship and belonging of a group “living in the shadows.”

Part of OPIRG’s intentions was to challenge rules imposed by thecolonial states. For ‘Indigenous’ people, people are always human beings. Nothing and nobody, can strip them from the nature of being human, so it is unthinkable in their terms to be a stateless person.It is unmoral to give the state the power to give people a nature and an identity, and more unmoral give the state the power to strip people out from those.

The Summit gathered almost 100 people interested in the subject. The event raised so much awareness about statelessness in Canada having several media coverage.


Collective Intercultural Kitchen Project*

*Beyond food security

A Participatory Study Of Ottawa’s Lowertown East Community Kitchen Program

Rosalind Ragetlie, University of Ottawa. December 2015

Photos Credit: Sonia Wesche

Given the community interest in bettering food-related programming, and the financial obstacles in providing this service, this project emerged from a partnership between the Ontario Public Research Interest Group (OPIRG), the Lowertown Good Neighbours Community House (LGNCH), and researchers from the University of Ottawa’s Department of Geography. As a non-partisan group dedicated to social, economic and environmental justice, OPIRG was initially approached by LGNCH regarding food security-related questions. The idea for this research project emerged through a series of conversations between researchers and community representatives to focus the research on community needs. Given the significance of adequate food security and its particular importance in low-income neighbourhoods, this project aimed to actively engage low-income populations in Lowertown East, Ottawa in the participatory development of successful community programming. For the program to be considered successful, it needs to be tailored to community needs and have a positive impact on food security, health, and encourage social strengthening through social and cultural interaction. The long-term goal is to inform funding decisions to support populations in the Lowertown East neighbourhood, and other similar communities, in gaining/sustaining access to more effective community food programs.

Having examined the Collective Intercultural Community Kitchen in the Lowertown East neighbourhood as an example of a program that has evolved to meet community needs, it is clear that the context and process of this particular community kitchen has generated positive results. Despite the challenges of implementing the program, people participanting felt the program had a significant positive impact on their lives in terms of social interaction, cultural learning, skill-building, and validation, empowerment, and both direct and indirect aspects of food security. This research highlights the importance of community food programs accentuating the importance of social networks, community strengthening, empowerment, and individual skill-building in their contributions to food security.

 Organizations and funders who implement programs need to recognize that food security results from an interaction of multiple factors, and that there is no single solution to this issue. This needs to be taken into consideration when measuring the success of community food programs, rather than focusing uniquely on how much food is provided, or how much money it saves participants.

This study has also demonstrated the importance of qualitative participatory action research. Stakeholder perspectives are important in order to have a more accurate understanding of the issues at play in a given community, and to identify the issues that are of real concern to community members. Without this understanding, there will continue to be a gap between community needs and interests, and what community programs are provided to address issues such as food security. This type of research also brings a richness and depth to the discussion, and aims to contribute positively to the community. Participatory action research and capacity-building takes time, however, and we were not able to fully incorporate this component into the research given the time constraints. It is important that this part of the research be continued with the aid of OPIRG, and that the results of the process be evaluated.

It is hoped that the results of this research and the ongoing participatory action project will help to inform the programming goals of the Lowertown Good Neighbours Community House, and influence funding decisions for community-based programming related to food security issues, ultimately making healthy and affordable food more accessible and creating stronger more empowered communities. This research may also be shared to benefit other Community Houses and vulnerable populations throughout the city. It is our hope that this research can improve policy and funding decisions at a broader level, and have a positive contribution to the continuation of programs that empower, validate, and enrich the lives of their participants.


Healthy Transportation Coalition


The goal of this project is to determine whether or not vulnerable populations are well-served by a Healthy Transportation network of sidewalks, walking paths, multi-use paths, bike lanes and public transportation in Ottawa, and what improvements are needed in policies, infrastructure, access and affordability.

For that purpose six neighbourhoods have been identified as priority. During thislast year we have surveyed and developed neighbourhoods profiles for four neighbourhoods (Herongate, Bayshore, Cummings and Vanier North). Surveys have helped us to learn about their access/needs to healthy transportation. We have also developed neighbourhoods profiles including maps using participatory mapping sessions. We have held 10 sharing circles between Heron Gate and Bayshore. During the summer active transportation audits were done at both neighbourhoods . We have presented the findings and needs at Bayshore and neigbourhood members have prioritized them and formed working groups to actively address those priorities. Working groups will be also working in developing pop up projects around the neighbourhood.

There are two main, more general outcomes from this project that will support healthy transportation issues around Ottawa, those are: Ottawa low income transit pass petition with more than 1500 signatures and toll road feasibility assessment approved by City Council


Chaudière Falls

Chaudière Falls began as a sacred site and meeting place for as many as 65 First Nations. It was subjected to 200 years of industrial use and abusethat mostly enriched the few. We cannot let for-profit development overpower the land and water again.

It is time for three islands and the dammed water around them to heal. The group is inviting all Canadians to return Chaudière Falls and its 3 islands to honorable uses. The Falls and its adjoining islands can become a natural oasis and gathering place fostering healing, unity, and reconciliation.

The vision for Chaudière Falls and its 3 islands was held, during 30 of his 97 years, by Algonquin Elder William Commanda (

He lobbied and he prayed for A Circle of All Nationsat this site in the Ottawa River. It is this vision that world-class Indigenous architect, Douglas Cardinal, is carrying today.  The work we are doing involves all Canadians because each of us has a stake in creating a future of peace and justice.

A place of power is waiting for our creative energy to bring it back to life. By doing so, Canadians can respect the value of nature, support national healing, and uphold peace and goodwill as a paramount Canadian values.

In 2017, as Canada celebrates 150 years as a federation, this country will be ripe for reconciliation. The historic and magnificent Ottawa River, Chaudière Falls, and these 3 islands can support Canada’s emergence as a nation that respects Indigenous values and cultures, and showcases them to the world.  Our work supports the vision of Algonquin elder William Commanda for Chaudiere Falls and the islands in the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Gatineau.  The vision is to remove the ring dam and restore the ecology of the 3 islands to create a welcoming place for all nations.  The vision celebrates peace and honours indigenous values and culture.  It includes a national indigenous centre complex.

This vision for the Chaudiere Falls has been threatened by two developments:

  1. The plans of the city’s newest condominium zone. Windmill Development Group’s plan is part of a billion dollar project to turn the open space into a populated area for people to live and work.  
  2. Hydro Ottawa has been awarded a 40-year power purchase agreement that will allow for a 29 MW expansion of the Chaudiere Falls hydroelectric plant.

The outcomes of the project would aim to stop the hydro project and the removal of ring dam. It is expected that the result of this project will be used to lobby decision makers, build public support, slow down/stop the expansion. It will also serve to bolster the appeal, to educate and mobilize public opinion, to stop the development of the condo development on sacred islands.


Living and Coexisting Well

The project will look at indicators of “well being” as a term that is inclusive of humans and non humans coexisting well and in harmony. Activities include interviewing elders and ask them the cultural understanding of leaving no ecological foot prints for futures generations.

Students are able to participate during the interviews with elders, they also engaged in reflective exercises about Indigenous traditions and modern times.

This year we have focused our energies in developing two main pieces:

  • The Circle of Elders

As an initiative within the Living & Coexisting Well research project, two Elders started an advisory instance to support our Board of Directors in consolidating a more sound vision and taking more appropriate decisions in their daily work. Also this advisory circle is sharing important teachings that come from the ancestors of occupied land and are knowledge keepers belonging to mature cultures, societies that have been in good relation with their surroundings.

Our Anishinaabe Elder is Jacob (Mowega) Wawatie coming from Barrière Lake in the Lavendrye Park, Quebec. Elder Jacob had dropped out of the schooling system when he was 14 years of age and went south of the border to New York State to become a teacher’s aide. After this experience, he realized that he had connected with his vocation: sharing with young generations. At this point he decided to complete his GD diploma in the formal schooling system and by his 17thbirthday he accomplished his objective. It was the year 1976 and two years later he became the director of the school in Rapid Lake. He realized that important changes had to be implemented to the school, to its orientation and its goals. By 1980 Jacob and a colleague of his had a plan to accomplish these changes and began restructuring the educational programs.

They set out to give a palpable correlation between young people surroundings and educational curricula. The number of successful students increased dramatically until 1996 when a new administration derailed the program implemented by Jacob and it represented quite a setback for the community.

Jacob realized that students were caught between two systems. What they learned in school could not be applied out in the woods. About fifteen years ago I started to integrate culture with the academic system, using legends, teachings. Bringing the materials from the forests into the classroom and making the children write about it to get them familiar with the subjects I was presenting.

In the year 2000 Jacob was asked to be a spokesperson for his family and the community, called Kokomville. This community is based on tradition, all of them are aware how to survive out in the woods. Jacob was taught by his grandmother [Lena Nottaway Jerome, who received an honorary doctorate from Carleton University]. In 1984, he took a sabbatical for twelve years with his grandmother in order to learn traditional knowledge. That was due to a question that had come up within the community as to what was the traditional philosophy. One of Jacob`s elders told him he should learn the traditional knowledge, the ancestral educational system.

Jacob recounts: “Why I chose my grandmother was that she was adopted by her great-great-grandmother, who lived to be 128. So she was raised from the age of two to the age of sixteen just living off the land with no usage of European resources. It was like going back in time prior to European contact. How did we survive? What was our lifestyle within the environment? For twelve years that was what I did.”

In 1999 Jacob became the spokesperson to protect the territory [La Verendrye] against logging [Domtar]. With his traditional knowledge Jacob won the case; but the verdict has been pushed aside just the same.

In 2000 Jacob held his first workshop for the Rainbow Family of Living Light within La Verendrye Park. The Rainbow members represented Canadian, American, Chinese, Blacks, from all over the world. Workshops followed each other and traditional knowledge was actively pursued, up to today. When Jacob met Aymara elder Marcelo they started to fulfill the prophecy of the Encounter of the Eagle and the Condor within OPIRG. They met during the first sun dance that took place in Kichi Sipi (outaouais region). It was the year 2010.

Elder Jacob Wawatie and Elder Marcelo Saavedra-Vargas immediately recognized each other as expressions of the Prophecy of the Re-Encounter of the Eagle and the Condor and spent much time sharing their cosmovisions in a series of encounters they had at Kokomville, in Kichi Sipi, during Chief Theresa Spence hunger strike, sacred fires, marching together during the massive mobilizations of Idle No More, performing round dances at the Occupy movement of the University of Ottawa’s office of the President, and sharing the original instructions of mature cultures in formal courses in Indigenous Studies, History, International Development and Global Studies and Political Sciences. This has been a blessed association our ancestors had prophesised and both elders are mere instruments for awakening the great wisdom, courage, and humility palpitating in our young generations hearts.

Elder Marcelo started his militancy at a young age in his home country, Bolivia. He was 14 years old and he was very aware of the political context of his country of birth and the so-called Americas (nowadays recuperated from our ancestors’ wisdom and called Abya-Yala, in the kuna language). A few years before his first political actions his uncle, Juan Jose Saavedra died with Che Guevara’s guerrilla military forces. The mystique of this great revolutionary was something extremely vivid in his family and something to honor permanently.

Eventually he met his wife and life-long accomplice during one of his travels to Canada. During the 80s he became a revolutionary fighter in Nicaragua, as he was trying to help the Sandinista forces to build socialism in this Central American country. He was also a militant for the guerrilla force FMLN in El Salvador. He found his indigenous roots within the Miskito and Rama Indians and gave up military revolutionary resistance and instead advocated the wisdom of peace and the magic of Indigenous cultures and prophecies to re-direct his life. Together with Elder Jacob he has been immersed in the fascinating Indigenous realms trying to share the teachings of mature cultures with young generations in the Kichi Sipi region

The Circle of Elders will eventually include more members and the circle will keep on being an advisory circle, as well as knowledge keepers, and help students (especially our Board of Directors) in their Vision Quest.

This has been an important qualitative step our organization has taken within one of our research projects contextualized by an ancestral prophecy: the coming together of mature cultures from Turtle Island (Anishinaabe people) and the Abya-Yala (Tawantinsuyu people).


  • The Blanket Exercise

Within the Living and Coexisting Well research project, misconceptions about the history, and the stories, of regional indigenous nations became relevant. Our mainstream educational system devotes little effort in young generations with a proper knowledge and awareness about the territory on which they are living and the history of the mature cultures that populated these regions.

As a way to deal with this issue we envisage to develop a tool, following the Blanket kit developed by Kairos. We had done, at OPIRG, this exercise twice. We evaluated it and we decided to develop one of our own. We conversed and consulted with Kairos officers and they agreed we could use their idea, modify and enrich it.

We saw as something crucial the Blanket exercise allows participants to gain a critical awareness of indigenous peoples histories, not only since contact was made with European cultures but, more importantly, to acknowledge that for thousands of years prior to 1492 more than 500 nations journeyed on the back of the Turtle. Some of these nations developed governance systems that took into account the grand concert of nations, both human and non-human, both alive and non-living (like watersheds, river systems, mountain ranges, and so on, including the realm of our ancestors, the spirit world).

We are way into the sixth process of extinction, anthropogenic in its source and very much aggravated by a specific mode of production and a peculiar understanding of what it means to be human.
We urgently (almost, desperately) need our young generations to awaken and empower themselves to offer the generations to come a planet that is still viable, good air to breathe, clean water to drink, healthy food to interact  with.

By developing this blanket kit with the invaluable support and commitment of uOttawa students we are designing it with our children in our minds. We believe this tool to be an empowering exercise all students going through the University of Ottawa should become participants of to gain knowledge about their surroundings and have a glimpse of every one’s quest in life.


Campus Garden Spaces

This year we engaged really closely with the Community Garden, the learning garden and the pollinators’ garden to understand they way they work and learn what their needs are.  There are two types of community-based gardens at the University of Ottawa: the learning gardens and community allotment gardens. Established as an OPIRG action group in 2014, the learning gardens are plots of land that are accessible to most students and staff who are willing to take part in growing a variety of fruits, vegetables and pollinator plants. Gardening events and workshops are typically held throughout the season, providing learning opportunities to all willing participants. Pollinators’ gardens are essential to introduce the basics of gardening and food systems to novice students. These types of gardens can be almost any size and can use a wide variety of plants including flowers, shrubs and trees. Additionally, pollinator gardens are easier to establish and maintain than vegetable gardens, and can be supportive of future vegetable or butterfly gardens. Best of all, pollinator gardens benefit the ecosystem.

The University of Ottawa gardens currently offer the opportunity for gardening experience in spaces that contribute to the benefit of both our campus communities and wildlife. The experience and aspects of learning are accompanied by horizontal modes of organization that govern these spaces in multiple ways relative to the garden’s purpose.

The learning gardens are spaces where individuals with little or no horticultural experience are able to learn the basics of gardening while also being a part of a community. It is with great hope that the gardening skills and information obtained at these gardens encourage individuals to take up gardening and, in turn, share their agricultural knowledge with others. Given that the learning gardens are still in their infancy, it is important to implement a working structure in place where key roles are identified. This step will help the overall operation of the gardens, as individuals assigned to specific roles will collectively work towards creating a friendly, community-oriented environment.

The community allotment gardens were created in 2005. As the name implies, these gardens located at the Leblanc building and on King Edward Avenue are parcels of lands that are assigned to students and staff of the University of Ottawa as well as community members in the area. In order to obtain a plot at the community gardens, an individual is required to fill out an application. In addition, all individuals are required to sign a contract, which delineates the rules and regulations of the gardens. In contrast to the learning gardens, the allotment gardens are used solely by the registered individuals and, therefore, exclude those who do not have assigned garden plots. Once a plot is assigned to an individual, he or she is responsible for maintaining his or her space: watering, harvesting, and cleaning are such required activities expected by community garden members.

The two types of community gardens are distinct from one another in that, on the one hand, the learning gardens are spaces that promote inclusive practices and empower individuals by providing knowledge that they can use throughout their lives. And on the other hand, while the allotment gardens are open to all members of the community, the fact that there is a limited amount of garden plots found on campus implies that there are individuals who will be excluded from using these green spaces. Indeed, there is a currently a waiting list for those wishing to obtain a space at these gardens. In addition, as these grounds are reserved to individuals, they can only empower those who are actively involved in these spaces. It is important to be mindful of these distinctions, as garden organizers may be able to adjust the policies of the campus community gardens accordingly in order to best meet the needs of current and future members.

In recent years, the structural organization of the community gardens has gone through a transformation. In 2014, when the community gardens coordinator left, a committee was created in order to help manage current gardening operations. This committee began by establishing roles. This approach differed from previous years, as the committee became more in line with a horizontal organizational structure rather than a top-down structure. With the exception of the months of January and December, meetings are held throughout the year – typically once a month – where topics including budget, maintenance, membership and plot assignment are discussed by members.

With respect to decision making, all members are encouraged to attend meetings, present proposals, express individual opinions, withdraw, and/or block proposals until a solution that works for everyone can be found. In this respect, everyone holds equal weight and is respected and listened to. The establishment of such a committee is more in line with OPIRG – Ottawa’s mandate, which, among other things, promotes social justice. This approach also reinforces community development, as members are encouraged to share their thoughts, opinions and concerns with other individuals. When this approach is done correctly, it not only allows ideas to be more developed, as members are encouraged to provide their input, but also new ideas may surface as members discuss matters more profoundly.

With respect to the learning gardens, the structural organization is not apparent, in that the committee above is not necessarily involved in its operations. As the learning gardens were recently created, a working organizational structure has yet to be created. The aim is to re-envision how the learning gardens are managed as more of a collaborative space with several teams concerned with maintenance. The emphasis on out reaching to campus organizations is mainly an attempt at making these spaces more sustainable and reflective of the campus communities needs. By having several organized teams working in the same space,

non-associated individuals will have more contact resources as well.

The gardens are hoping to hire a coordinator for this summer. The coordinator will address several issues presented by this report including the coordination of activities of the three green spaces, organization of the working parties, recruitment of volunteers for the learning garden, organization of training opportunities for all green spaces, organization of work schedules for volunteers, coordination of work with other organizations around campus (Food Bank, Sustainable Development Centre, PRD, etc.).

The idea is to offer some of the food the garden is producing to the food bank and probably organize cooking opportunities with Republic of Delicious.


Participatory Evaluation Analysis: Case of a Youth Intervention Program

The purpose of this report is to recount and analyze a participatory evaluation process of an intervention program of yoga, meditation and art expression designed for street youth, which was run in Ottawa Winter 2013 Spring 2014. This analysis is a good example to illustrate a participatory process. The process starts from the premise that the youth and other people involved in the process have the ability of sharing and learning from each other. Relationships tend to be established and developed in the most possible equal way, based on trust and reciprocity.  The participatory process requires awareness on power relationships, different agendas of people involved, and clarifications of the roles. The structure needs flexibility and acceptance of inherent messiness of the process.

The approach taken by this research was participatory, with the idea of creating an opportunity for the youth to express themselves and lead the process of reflecting about the proposed program.

Participatory framework was understood as a way of offering an opportunity to people taking part of the program to have a voice and be active part of the process. For this specific case, we acknowledged several limitations. 

The first limitation in importance was the fact of not being able to have youth as fullparticipants to be able to develop a full participatory framework.  Designing, collecting analyzing, writing and disseminating are the different stages involved in a participatory research process. It is necessary that all parts are present from the beginning to define agendas, interests, roles and responsibilities.  As Rogers Hart’s ladder shows, we were aiming for rung #6 (Figure 1), where even though adults could initiate the actions they can share decisions with youth.   “Full involvement of youth in participatory research requires that they be involved in all aspects of the research process from inception to dissemination” (Funk, 2012) when youth are at that level of engagement they are empowered by their participation (p. 289).

Secondly, the team felt very strongly that there was not a unified position regarding youth interventions and how we understood youth. The traditional top/down approach was very clear at times. The use of terms such as “youth at risk” could really describe the two different visions present within the process.  The greater part of the knowledge produced about teenagers and youth describes their realities according to a number of problems (dropout, harassment, substance abuse, depression, suicide, violence, eating disorders, uses of technologies, etc.). All this certainly provides relevant knowledge to intervene and alleviate these difficulties, but also develops a vision of young people as frail, in danger or “at risk”. This negative perspective becomes the dominant paradigm to discuss adolescence and youth (Caron and Soulière, 2013). There have been attempts since 1990s to recognize youth as social actors capable of reflection and action, able to make choices, express themselves and give meaning to their lives. For this perspective it is essential to include youth themselves and their experiences in the development of research and programs. It is by multiplying these experiences rooted in the youth lived realities that can produce positive perspective and knowledge that could change and redefine language around youth (Caron and Soulière, 2013).

As a team we acknowledged that these limitations could have been addressed by giving more time to create a safe space where people would be able to openly talk about their positions so it would not be a place for assumptions. It would have been necessary for the “adults” in the team, including the instructor, to have some training on power with and youth engagement dynamics, to understand from where the youth members of the team were coming from. That would have addressed power relationship issues as well as equality, trust, and reciprocity. 



The recommendations are inspired in the experience we have had with this program. Recommendations include ideas so the steps also include the evaluation process and the way of collecting information for the program. The same structure can be used for any type of program YSB could develop with youth.

  • Supported by YSB staff, youth could develop a structure open to content filling oriented to self-care, healthy mind, healthy body. Youth could be recruited among different programs, aiming at few key youth leader to recruit among their own networks
  • The program of yoga and mediation sessions could be offered weekly
  • The Yoga instructor could be a young instructor, part of the programs at the YSB. Recruitment of the instructor should be first done at YSB. In case the yoga instructor is coming from somewhere else, the instructor will have to receive youth engagement and “power with” training
  • Young people involved and Yoga Instructor should receive training in participatory action research and evaluation
  • Youth participating of the program and yoga instructor should develop the yoga and meditation program. They will have to decide if they want to set themes in advance for each session or if they prefer to identify the theme during the check-in time of the session.
  • The sessions should be structure in ways that young peoplecould give feedbacks to the instructor every session (e.g. debriefing session at the end or check out time). Feedback will have to be included in successive sessions
  • A midterm debriefing session could help to reflect in the process and readdress possible problematic issues
  • Final debriefing session would also contribute to collect information for the evaluation of the program
  • Collectively the group should be able to put together a short report indicating the benefits of the program and how to improve it.


    Gaining Insight: A Community-Based Approach to Understanding Physical Activity and Weight Gain in Pregnancy of First Nations and Métis Women 

    I (Francine Darroch) completed 15 interviews with professionals who work with pregnant urban First Nations women in Ottawa. These interviews were intended to gather professional perspectives concerning the factors that interact to influence urban First Nations women’s weight gain in pregnancy.  I have completed critical discourse analysis of this data and discussed the findings with the project advisory board.  In the second phase of the project a community member and myself conducted semi-structured interviews and focus groups with a total of 20 pregnant women/mothers in the community. The focus groups suggested what resource pregnant women/mothers would find beneficial for them and their communities. Then I created an on-line resource for urban First Nations and Métis women about pregnancy and health.

    Francine Darroch defended her PhD dissertation in 2016. Francine is from the Department of Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa.  Read her dissertation here: 

    Gaining Insight: A Community-Based Approach to Understanding Physical Activity and Weight Gain in Pregnancy with First Nations and Métis Women

    National Survey of Queer Student Service Operations

    This project focused on two conversations, one with the University of Ottawa Pride Centre and one with the LGBTQ Centre at Carleton University, to discuss what it is like to operate a queer student centre.

    The presence of queer student centres (QSCs) across Canadian universities and colleges is largely unknown. It is an important area of investigation since queer-identified students have previously identified several benefits of these services, including receiving support from other queer individuals. The focus of the current study was to determine (a) the number of QSCs in Canadian universities and colleges; (b) factors predicting their existence; (c) types of support they receive; and (d) future directions. A national online survey of 156 institutions and two in-person focus groups 2) were conducted. Descriptive analyses and a logistic regression were completed, and qualitative responses of the survey and the focus groups were thematically coded. Results demonstrate that universities and institutions with larger student populations are more likely to have a centre and that institutional support is crucial for their operations. Implications for the sustainability and creation of centres are discussed.

    The research has been presented at the GSAED conference and at the Society for Community Research and Action conference in June 2013.  A journal article has been published by Higher Education and the paper has been circulated to Pride Centres across the country.

    Translations by activists

    Translation and ideologies (religious or secular), have always had a complex and tortuous relationship. When translators don’t fully understand a philosophy or ideology or religion, their translations will be inaccurate and insatisfactory. Collaborative, community or voluntary translations done by activists are essential, and translators can be real agents of change in translation called

    A journal peer review article from my presentation at the 2013 Glendon College Conference was published in Tradução em Revista18, 2015/1, at page 160. As a result of my participation in the Congress of Brazil (2013), I contacted the Brazilian Belas Infieis translatological review and an article has been translated into Portuguese and will appear in the next issue. Another, related to the presentation in the conference (on the subject at hand), is also being considered for publication.

    “Hidden Bruises (HIV & AIDS film) “

    About the film:

    Hidden Bruises is an independent documentary film which is being produced in order to portray Caribbean persons who are survivors of HIV/AIDS and Violence.

    A pervasive culture of violence exists in the Caribbean region, including gun violence, intimate partner violence and sexual abuse. Murder rates in the Caribbean are higher than in any other region of the world, and assault rates including rape are significantly above the world average. With an HIV prevalence rate averaging 1%, the Caribbean is also the world’s second most affected region by the AIDS epidemic.

    The question therefore arose, “What are the intersections that exist between HIV and Violence in the Caribbean?”

    Hidden Bruises seeks to promote discussion, engagement and awareness about the intersections that exist between HIV and Violence with specific emphasis on the inadequate systems, practices and policies that hinder the fight to end HIV & AIDS and Violence in the Caribbean region.

    Why are we fundraising? 

    We need your help to complete the full-length documentary film. Through fundraising events, it is our hope that the team will be able to return to the different Caribbean countries and communities to complete the filming. The funds raised will also help to cover the costly post-production phase, which includes archival footage and regional television segments, voice-over narration, composing, picture and sound editing, and translation.

    About us: 

    Skylarc Pictures is a small activism-oriented independent film company from Canada and Barbados that uses film and arts education to create social and environmental change across the Caribbean region and beyond.

    Hidden Bruises is produced in formal partnership with The Institute of Gender & Development Studies: Nita Barrow Unit (University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados).

    Director/Cinematographer/Co-Writer: SKYLARC, a Canadian-Barbadian film company

    Co-Writer: Dr. Charmaine Crawford, Director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados).

    Producer: Jessica Jaja, MA Candidate in Human Geography (University of Ottawa)

    Narrator: Adrian Green, Award-Winning Barbadian Spoken Word Poet


    Clarity (sexuality & identity theatre)

    This project aimed to create and sustain a dialogue between the youth of today and our culture, so that a healthier future could be created. It is our belief that we cannot start this dialogue without having a clear and unbiased view of community realities related to sexuality, identity, relationship styles, social dynamics, stigma and oppression. The resulting play was performed during the Ottawa Fringe Festival 2014.

    Stories of the Land (Cree youth and land-based initiatives)

    Strengthening and Highlighting Traditional Healing Practices for Indigenous Youth: This research project with the Moose Factory First Nation proceeded in the spirit of community engagement, in the direction selected by the community. Seeking to honor the community’s request for meaningful research, I made a third field trip into the Cree community to confirm the data collected and to ensure that it supported the community’s work of cultural renewal and land-based programming. The research includes an examination of the relationship between grandmother songs and cultural healing methods. In July 2014, I attended the community’s annual Gathering of our People event to share the research findings. I appreciate OPIRG’s support, which allowed me to offer stipends to the research participants. 

    Janice Cindy Gaudet defended her thesis in 2016: An Indigenous Methodology for Coming to Know Milo Pimatisiwin as Land-Based Initiatives for Indigenous Youth 

    Round Dancing in the Rotunda (Decolonizing the U. of Ottawa campus)

    Decolonizing space at the University of Ottawa: The goal of this research was to understand how Indigenous students at the University of Ottawa experience exclusion spatially on campus. The project generated recommendations for organizing more acts of cultural resurgence and transforming the physical environment of campus in order to help decolonize the space.

    The project also produced a Zine Decolonizing Space at the University of Ottawa April 2016

    Mining Watch (Canada exploiting Mexico’s resources)

    Canadian mining companies are exploiting resources all over Mexico, despite the wishes of Indigenous populations, and this is documented by this research.  Unfortunately the University of Ottawa pension funds are invested in many of these mining companies. This link offers a report about the research a student did on the subject.

    “Developing a Food Policy for U of Ottawa”

    The goal of this project is to identify the organizations, programs, and activities on campus related to food issues, and to make this information available and visible. We hope then to meet and work with various concerned campus groups, professors and students to develop a food policy for the University of Ottawa campus.

    “Organizing ICOPA 15 (Penal abolition conference)”

    Exploring Social Identity Dynamics, Collective and Horizontal Leadership Issues, and Fluidity at the International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA): This research project used a participation-action method to explore abolitionist social identities, the dynamics of collective and horizontal leadership structures (very common in activist organizing) as well as the relationships, tensions, and cooperation between the less-involved international group and the local committee taking responsibility for the next conference. We examined the possibilities of producing critical knowledge that might serve future ICOPA committees as well as other activist organizations. Further, we explored the possibility and importance of sharing the research results. The lead researchers recruited six participants from the local ICOPA organizing committee who, collaboratively set out the parameters of the project . We prepared a number of resources to present to the group which assisted us in tracking our thinking and feelings about our conference preparation activities.

    We used journal-writing as a way to track our activities and our thinking during the preparation work and also during the  conference, which was held June of 2015. We were pleased to transmit the findings and best practices gleaned from our research to ICOPA, and especially to the organizers of the next ICOPA conference in 2016.

    This project produced a peer reviewed article published at Penal Field/Champs pénal Journal: “The International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA): Exploring Dynamics and Controversies as observed at ICOPA 15 on Algonquin Territory”

    “Theatre of the Oppressed (penal abolition)” To create awareness about penal abolition, we presented Theatre of the Oppressed during a session of the 2015 International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA).

    “UOttawa Restorative Garden (nature & concentration, stress)”

    University of Ottawa Restorative Garden campus pilot project seeks to understand the potential positive impacts of contact with nature at the university, with a view to creating an environment which helps to restore the following:

    • physical and mental energy
    • the ability to cope with and recover from stress
    • cognitive vitality and improved capacity to process information
    • natural diversity and beauty
    • human-nature interaction

    Healthy Transportation and Vulnerable Populations

    ” It’s Not a Death Sentence (HIV/AIDS)”   

    It’s Not a Death Sentence is a  60 second public service announcement created by Skylarc Pictures for the AIDS Committee of Ottawa. It challenges viewers to change their perceptions of living with HIV from that of a death sentence to a life of fulfillment. The purpose is to suggest ways for the activist community and the general public to participate in reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

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