Homeless for a decade, Waterloo grad Jesse Thistle wins Trudeau scholarship

Posted: Aug 26, 2016

‘Once I won the Trudeau, I went, Oh, my life is going to change now’

thistle 1
University of Waterloo graduate and Trudeau Scholar, Jesse Thistle has come a long way from living homeless in the GTA. (University of Waterloo)

Continue reading “Homeless for a decade, Waterloo grad Jesse Thistle wins Trudeau scholarship”

The Price of Unpaid Internships

By Clare Bonnyman

The voices of students used in this piece were collected anonymously from a sample of 37 post-secondary students that have completed unpaid internships.

Today’s graduating students struggle.

Many earn a degree, but have little or no technical experience, and an obvious solution is an internship.

Today, unpaid internships are becoming infamous, warranting headlines and strong reactions.

“I think they are so insidiously evil,” said Bridget Eastgaard, creator of personal finance blog Money After Graduation.

“There is this mind set of the people that have completed unpaid internships. They act like it has made them a better person because they had to struggle so much,” she said.

Eastgaard calls it “The Bootstrapping Millennial Martyrdom Complex”, and has written about it in her blog. Essentially, those who suffered in the early years of their career see it as a rite of passage, and believe all others should too.

And with discussions within federal government trying to protect young workers, the limits of student suffering are up for discussion.

Today, more than ever students are paying to work, giving in to the ‘hidden costs’ of unpaid internships.

The hardest cost is deciding between paid work or an unpaid internship, but for Eastgaard, the benefits of working for free is not worth doing full time.

“I don’t want to see young people working 100 hours a week because they have to have two full time jobs,” she said

More than 50 per cent of the post-secondary students surveyed had part time jobs, and more than half kept those jobs while completing an unpaid internship.

Current proposed federal legislation would allow unpaid internships of four months or less. Originally proposed under the Harper Conservatives, the proposed changes to the Canada Labour Code focus on internships in federally regulated sectors that are “primarily for the benefit of the intern.”

Advocacy groups representing students pulled out of the consultations due to this proposed change.

The average part time job is 15 hours a week, and minimum wage in Ontario is $11.25 an hour; the average student taking four months off of work loses out on at least $2,700 dollars over 16 weeks.

Full time hours would earn them at least $6,300.

Internships can push students to work overtime, creating a struggle to balance budget and build a decent resume.

Quitting a paying job can make things harder.

“It’s one thing to take a job that you’re not getting a pay cheque for, but it’s quite another to leave a job to take a job that you’re not getting a pay cheque for,” said Eastgaard.

Other issues include relocating or commuting costs.

“A really good opportunity sometimes comes with those associated costs of moving,” said Eastgaard.

One student surveyed relocated to stay with family for free, while another spent $1,000 dollars on flights. When asked why they simply said, “one day I want a job.”

Another student took an opportunity abroad that also came with a costly commute. Her employer had promised a bus pass, but that never materialized, causing problems for a tight budget.

Student’s reported spending anywhere from $50 to $10,000 on relocation costs for unpaid positions, with 40 per cent of respondents spending more than $1,000.

Some costs are less obvious as well.

Unpaid internships can also force students into buying new equipment, clothing or joining networking activities.

Students reported spending up to $600 on these ‘satellite’ costs.

Tallied up, internships ranged from one week to five months, and cost anywhere from nothing to $10,000, not including lost wages.

Students keep costs low by staying close to home, living with friends or family, and keeping a tight budget for food and clothing.

In any case, internships are a serious financial burden, but a dream opportunity is hard to pass up.

Eastgaard’s advice is to evaluate the ROI— return on investment.

“When you’re considering an internship that is going to impact your finances in a negative way, make sure that it ultimately will have a positive ROI in your career,” she said.

“It can’t be just like ‘yay I’m bringing someone coffee in publishing.”

When it comes to the students, some call internships “a necessary evil,” while others feel they “should be illegal.”

For Eastgaard, it’s very simple.

“People should just be paid, period.”

Carleton University alumni appear on Dragon’s Den

Originally published on http://www.charlatan.ca.

Carleton alumni Jeff Davis and Jonah Brotman made their pitch on Dragon’s Den on Feb. 3, walking away with $50,000 and the support of Canada’s wealthiest barber.

Davis and Brotman met at Carleton during their undergraduate studies and have since co-founded the StashBelt, a belt with a built in zipper that travellers can use to safely carry money or documents.

The products are handmade in Kenya, and were inspired by Davis’s experience working as a journalist in Nairobi. While reporting on post-election violence in 2007, Davis was arrested and accused of being an American spy.

“He didn’t have his passport on him,” Brotman said. “But he did have a little money belt that his dad had actually hand sewn for him, and so he popped it off, opened the zipper, and pulled out photocopy of his passport, which is what got him out of jail.”

Davis came back from Kenya, enlisted the help of friends Brotman and Seth Rozee, and in late 2011 StashBelt was born.

A successful Indiegogo campaign in 2013 raised $10,000 for the project, and on Season nine of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, the team asked for $50,000 for a 33 per cent stake in the company.

To prepare for the show, the team practiced their 90-second pitch for weeks. “As much as I hate to admit it, since childhood my father has always said practice, practice, practice,” Brotman said. “He was right.”

But being comfortable in front of Canada’s richest and most influential business people was by no means a small task for Davis, Rozee and Brotman, but their passion goes beyond business. “I think that comfort comes when you know your product, you really believe in the mission,” Brotman said. “It’s about supporting a trade not aid mentality, and about empowering Kenyans.”

Pitching $50,000 for a third of their business, the trio walked away with $50,000 from ‘The Wealthy Barber’ Dave Chilton. Chilton also offered to be a mentor to the trio.

“That’s something that is really exciting for us,” Brotman said. “He’s sort of supporting us not just as a monetary investor, but he’s really giving his time and his support to help grow our business.”

Looking now to expanding into big retailers and across North America, the threesome behind Stashbelt is looking to share the experience.

“We just started it because we had a passion for it,” Brotman said. “A lot of students often feel like unless they study business they can’t do some of these things.”

But that’s not the case.

“You should try,” he said. “People can do a lot more than they think they can.” 

Kurdish Culture Takes the Spotlight

(Edited and condensed before publishing on Centretown News Friday November 28, below find my original feature-length piece)

By Clare Bonnyman

It’s a story for the ages: a young Canadian travels to Turkey, falls in love, and finds herself married to a Kurdish freedom fighter.

That is the story of Laurie Fraser, an Ottawa-based writer whose novel The Words Not Spoken – based off her real life – was featured in a recent celebration of Kurdish culture at the Main branch of the Ottawa Public Library.

It was Laurie’s marriage to a member of a Kurdish militant organization in 1994 that moved her to the small Turkish village of Gorema.

Fraser was on hand to share her story on Nov. 15 at the library’s first ”Words and Kurds” cultural event.

“Hopefully the lines between my actual experiences and pure fiction are seamless,” says Fraser. “The fiction is believable, and the truth is sometimes outrageous.”


The afternoon featured Fraser alongside Carleton University professor Jaffer Sheyholislami, sharing literature inspired by the culture of Kurdistan, an area that straddles Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, with a population of approximately 28 million.

Since 1983, continued acts of political violence overrun Kurdistan.

Kurdish nationalist organizations seek to establish an independent nation state of Kurdistan, while other groups campaign for Kurdish autonomy.

“We said we should look at the lighter side of things and shed some light on what else Kurds do,” says Sheyholislami. “Like any other people they live, they have music, they have poetry.”

The event was designed to open a “dialogue on current issues, and to share past experiences,” says event organizer and master of ceremonies Jeghir Jahangir, of the Kurdish Youth Association of Canada.

The KYAC coordinates events to celebrate Kurdish identity and freedom. While most events take a political stance, this event was designed to celebrate and share Kurdish culture.

“It’s not about news, it’s not about politics,” says Fraser. “Let’s just share stories.”


But the political struggle of the Kurdish people was recognized throughout the afternoon.

Sheyholislami introduced his poetry readings with a nod to the current Kobane resistance, where “sons and fathers, daughters and mothers, side by side have been defending their town against the onslaught of ISIS for the past two months.”

The event was held only a day after news broke that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau – the gunman involved in the Ottawa shootings on October 22 – was surfing the Web in the same Metcalfe Street library branch in the days leading up to his attack on Parliament.

The Canadian government has claimed that Zehaf-Bibeau’s actions were ideologically motivated, and that he was inspired by ISIS. Recent reports state that he was radicalized as far back as 2009.

But the crowd looked to the future when Sardar Saadi — a University of Toronto PhD student — tuned in via Skype to share information about the Rojava Media Project.


The project aims at assisting youth in the Rojava region of Kurdish Syria, empowering them in a “multi-religious, multi-ethnic region that has been exploited by so many powers,” said Saadi.

The event closed with footage from Saadi’s visit to Rojava this past August. He spent two weeks with nine students, training and equipping them to produce documentaries.

For many, it was their first time holding a camera.

Saadi hopes to return to Rojava, but in the meantime is sharing his work at Kurdish events across Canada, working closely with organizations like the KYAC and activists like Jahangir.

“While there is a political resistance side,” says Jahangir, “there is also a cultural resistance side.”

Tobacco sales banned on post-secondary campuses

(Originally posted on November 18, 2014)

By Clare Bonnyman

New provincial anti-smoking regulations ban the sale of tobacco products on post-secondary campuses. The legislation comes into effect in January, removing tobacco products from the shelves of campus retailers across Ontario.

For most Ottawa institutions, the regulation won’t change anything. Algonquin College and University of Ottawa removed tobacco products from campus retailers’ years ago, meanwhile Carleton University has not.

Of the Carleton retailers, no vendor overseen directly by the university sells tobacco products. However, retailers run by the student groups the Carleton University Student Association and Rideau River Residence Association, do.

“This is something that’s been coming for quite some time,” said CUSA Business Operations Manager Rod Castro. “We just never really knew what the time frame was.”

Castro oversees Henry’s convenience store on the Carleton University campus, a centrally located spot for students to pick up a snack, and where they used to be able to buy cigarettes.

Castro said that they are not the stores top-selling item, as “cigarettes are more of a traffic creating item, sort of like gas is at a gas station.”

However the legislation will have a significant financial effect.

“Cigarette sales is probably 20-25% of our total sales, and there really is no replacement for that type of revenue” said Castro.

“Literally I expect a drop in sales of about 20 or 25 percent, instantly.”

CUSA’s cigarette sales for the 2014-2015 school year were estimated at $53,000 in profit. As the legislation is only in effect for one of the three semesters, a profit-loss of approximately a third, or $17,666, could be predicted for CUSA.

Students forced to search off campus for a pack of smokes. 

New provincial legislation is going to make buying a package of cigarettes more different for students at Carleton University.
New provincial legislation is going to make buying a package of cigarettes more different for students at Carleton University.

Other institutions in Ontario have already implemented bans on the sale of tobacco products and even smoking on campuses, some leading up to the expected regulations.

“We’ve definitely been preparing for it,” said CUSA President Folarin Odunayo. “There were discussions when we first heard about the law coming about, and other situations on campuses across the country.”

But unlike other campuses, Odunayo and CUSA chose not to make a decision for the Carleton community.

“We can certainly encourage students to not smoke and inform and educate students about the health hazards of smoking, but I don’t really think it is in our position to ban things from the campus,” said Odunayo.

He said CUSA “can only provide the information, students are mature enough to make decisions on their own.”

CUSA welcomes initiatives onto campus to educate students about the hazards of smoking, like Leave The Pack Behind, a youth-oriented tobacco control program that has had a presence on campus throughout the fall.

International student Ivana Kolkovic came to Carleton from Serbia, and as a smoker says she is against the new regulations.

“I just feel that there are so many other things that are as dangerous as smoking,” said Kolkovic.

She says it is a personal choice whether or not to smoke.

“There are many issues around it,” she said. “People think that you smoke because you cannot cope with your problems and things like that, but I think that things are more complex.”

Odunayo says that unlike other Ottawa campuses that have more strict rules around smoking, CUSA didn’t feel that it was in any position to restrict students.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, is CUSA in the position to ban anything from campus?” he said. “We only have to provide a safe environment.”

Cassandra Leblonde, a second year English major who lives off campus, said she doesn’t know if she’d walk from campus to Bank Street to pick up a pack.

“Depends how much I wanted some smokes,” she said. “It’s a pretty big addiction.”


Facts and Figures about Tobacco on campus.
Facts and Figures about Tobacco on campus.

facts sourced from:

A 2004 study by Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada and a 2006 report by the University of Waterloo.