When a joke leads to eviction

Halifax student facing eviction over jokes he says are “misunderstood” but his roommates say create a “hostile environment.”

By Matthew Scrimshaw

Jing Tang records the comments made by her roommate in a little black book. (Matthew Scrimshaw / Peninsula News)

Inside her third-floor bedroom, a spacious triangular alcove with a door leading to a small snow-covered porch, 23-year-old Jing Tang is able to carve out a little piece of serenity.  She turns down the music playing on her MacBook, the gentle voice of a Chinese opera singer dimming, and pulls a small, black notebook from the drawer beside her bed.

“This is one of the few places where I can relax,” she says, her arms motioning like those of a conductor and pointing to the large size of her room.

She opens the first page of the notebook and traces her finger down a page littered in notations.  Each notation is accompanied by a date and time, and observed together with the accounting books lining her bookshelf, the book appears to be a ledger.

It is.  Tang does not get along with one of her roommates.

“I was told to document every bad thing he’s said,” she explains, turning the page to reveal yet another page full of written-down transgressions.

The transgressions largely centre around the use of sexist, racist and homophobic stereotypes according to Tang.

“He told me he would send me back to China,” she says, laughing now at the absurdity of the threat, but at the time she says she was thinking, “I’m here alone, an international student, female, from Asia, so it’s become personal.”

The repeated comments have made her feel helpless says Tang and her once spacious room now seems claustrophobic.

“It would be nice to study downstairs, or spend more time in the kitchen, but I don’t want to argue anymore,” says Tang.

Uncomfortable

Tang lives in a large house on the edge of Dalhousie’s campus with six other roommates.  She has done so for two years and several of her roommates have come and gone during that time.  Though the rooms are rented individually, and her roommates often begin as strangers,  Tang insists that she has gotten along with all of them – but one.

“My roommate, his comments make me very uncomfortable,” she says, “It’s become a hostile environment.”

In the downstairs kitchen that foreign-exchange student Tang prefers to avoid, one of her roommates agrees with her assessment.  Brent Carpenter is a third-year-old law student at Dalhousie and only moved into the house last September.

“It’s an uncomfortable environment,” he says while seated at a worn kitchen table, two computers splayed out in front of him. “And the intimate nature of the roommate relationship makes it more of a concern.”

He says he knew living with strangers might be complicated, but was not expecting this level of animosity.

“It’s somewhat anticipated that there will be some butting of heads, but you can’t foresee the general disruption of a roommate who constantly creates conflict.”

Carpenter accepts that his roommate is entitled to opinions different than his own but says he takes umbrage when those opinions lead to disrespect.

“No one deserves to be criticized or ridiculed on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation,” says Carpenter.

Though many of his housemates have elected to avoid the house’s common areas as much as possible, Carpenter has done the opposite.

“It’s a form of bullying, and while I won’t sink to that level, I’m not going to back down either,” says Carpenter.

Is communication the answer?

The rising tension amongst the house’s tenants reflects one of the main concerns of Dalhousie University’s Off-Campus Living Office.  They offer students a guide to living with roommates that emphasizes the need for regular communication.

However, Tang insists that communication is not the problem.

“We have tried talking politely, talking angrily, talking to our landlord…. I have gone to Dal’s legal services office to get advice,” she says, dropping her head.  “It’s not that we don’t talk, it’s what’s said when we do talk.”

She adds that documenting her roommate’s behaviour was the suggestion of the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service.

Though the roommates are reluctant to mention specific incidents, it appears that the majority of the complaints stem from off-colour jokes and comments that they feel are made solely to elicit a response, according to Carpenter.

“We’ve tried many times to be nice, to talk, to start with a clean slate, to let bygones be bygones, and to establish ground rules,” he says. “Without fail, this individual overstepped boundaries and made comments.”

Misunderstanding or eviction?

This individual is Giovanni Rojas, an engineering student who moved into the house in September, the same time as Carpenter.  He says he is not a villain, but simply misunderstood.

“I make jokes, and sometimes people get offended because of those jokes, but I don’t mean anything offensive,” says Rojas.

He says that many of his roommates make the same type of jokes, and that he has never had issues with people he has resided with in the past.

“I lived in residence for five years and never had any conflict,” says Rojas.

Nonetheless, Rojas admits that the house’s landlord, Ezra Edelstein, has given him multiple warnings, both verbally and in writing, to stop antagonizing his roommates.

Form E - Landlord's Notice To Quit
Form E – the landlord’s notice to quit – must be hand delivered to the tenant. Upon receiving it, the tenant has 15 days to vacate the premise. (Picture courtesy Access Nova Scotia)

He says his perceived dismissal of these warnings has prompted Edelstein to seek his eviction, citing a breach of statutory condition 3 under section 9 (1) of Nova Scotia’s Residential Tenancies Act, which states:

“A landlord or tenant shall conduct himself in such a manner as not to interfere with the possession or occupancy of the tenant or of the landlord and the other tenants, respectively.”

Edelstein says that he has never had to resort to eviction in his time as a landlord, but has received repeated complaints about Rojas’ behaviour.

Meanwhile, Rojas says he is exploring his options, including filing his own complaint against the landlord.

“[I am] Probably going to fight it because I think my rights are being violated when someone like the landlord comes and says he’s going to kick me out,” says Rojas.

Too little too late?

Tang welcomes the news of her roommate’s potential eviction, but laments the timing.  Her semester is almost complete, and she is likely moving to Vancouver in May.  For now, she is resigned to studying within the confines of her own room, but able to find solace in the support of current and former roommates alike.

Carpenter says that despite Rojas souring his year, there are rewarding aspects to living with other people, such as shared meals and common experiences.

Indeed, as Tang’s former roommate Stephanie Dover points out, common issues are often what bring people closer together.

“Some of the best memories of my life are because of living with roommates, you almost become like family,” she says, smiling as she fingers Tang’s notebook of transgressions.  Before she can continue, Tang delivers the punchline.

“You chose to live alone this year!”

Abortion debate continues aboard Metro Transit

New pro-choice ads on Metro Transit buses will continue the abortion debate in Halifax, and offer a positive alternate perspective, say pro-choice advocates.

By Matthew Scrimshaw

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 2.39.15 PM

Metro Transit bus users will be greeted by pro-choice ads beginning Monday.

“To be pro-choice means to support reproductive rights for peoples of all genders,” reads the fluorescent yellow ad that will appear on all of Halifax’s 255 buses during the next month.

The ad campaign is the work of South House and the Halifax Sexual Health Centre. It was created to counter pro-life ads that appeared on Metro Transit buses earlier this year.

The South House is volunteer-based, student-funded gender and sexual resource center. (Matthew Scrimshaw/Peninsula News)
The South House is volunteer-based, student-funded gender and sexual resource centre. (Matthew Scrimshaw/Peninsula News)

“Anti-choice ads are often a lot of misinformation and pseudo-science, and even that’s generous,” says Jude Ashburn, the outreach coordinator at South House, the only full-time gender justice centre in Halifax.

She believes the campaign’s message is critical. “It’s about wanting to remind people that the whole radical notion that you know what’s best for your body is what pro-choice means.”

Renewed debate

Halifax pro-life group Signs for Life sparked a renewed debate about abortion in January with a controversial ad that targeted Metro Transit users.

It pictured a newborn baby, and the caption, “Luc was born today but his life began nine months ago.”

As Signs For Life spokesperson Stephanie Potter explains, the ad was meant to positively reflect her group’s position.

“We are pro-life in the humanist sense – we believe the science and the idea of life beginning at conception.”

This Signs for Life ad ran on all 255 Metro Transit buses starting Dec. 30, 2013. (Photo courtesy Signs for Life)
This Signs for Life ad ran on all 255 Metro Transit buses starting Dec. 30, 2013. (Photo courtesy Signs for Life)

Nonetheless, the mother of five children admits the ad’s sensitive subject may have offended some riders.

“I know it made some people uncomfortable, which wasn’t at all our aim, but at the same time we did want to engender some discussion.”

“How much would it cost to get our own?”

Ashburn was among the individuals made uncomfortable by the ads.  The South House outreach coordinator distinctly remembers first noticing the sign on her way to work.

“So here they are targeting the working class and the poor on their way to work,” says Asbhurn. “I’m extremely angry, and [I thought] how much would it cost to get our own [ad]?”

Jude Ashburn 1
Jude Ashburn, South House outreach coordinator, sends an email from her office. (Matthew Scrimshaw/Peninsula News)

Ashburn and fellow pro-choice supporter Allison Sparling immediately contacted Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the company responsible for Metro Transit’s bus signage.  They were told it would cost $4000 to run an ad for a month.

They raised the entire amount using the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com.

“We’ve had really excellent support,” Ashburn says, noting that many people have thanked them for proving an outlet to express their pro-choice values.

“They were like ‘please take this [money]!  I need to see something happen because I’m sick of the shaming tactics.’”

Public shaming

Ashburn is a veteran pro-choice advocate, and recently sat across from the Signs for Life group for every day of the pro-life 40 Days for Life vigil at the Victoria General Hospital.

She explains that public shaming is one of the harsher tactics employed by pro-life supporters, and in her experience is often rooted in misogyny.

“I have been personally told that abortions wouldn’t exist if you women would keep your legs shut – an old man told me that!”

Ashburn adds that groups such as South House and the Halifax Sexual Health Centre exist to ensure that other women do not have to endure similar treatment alone.

“People have their back so they don’t have to feel ashamed or attacked if they’re ever in the situation where they have to make that difficult choice.”

For her part, Potter agrees that the abortion debate should be conducted respectfully. She says that Signs For Life has always maintained a positive tone in their interactions with the public.

“We’re not here to judge people, we’re not here to get into a screaming match. We just want to be able to talk about it, debate it, and disseminate information.”

Here to stay

Both groups insist that their latest efforts are only the beginning of a renewed debate. Potter says that Signs for Life will continue to spread their message.

Signs4Life Bedford Highway
Signs for Life’s current Bedford Highway billboard. (Photo courtesy Signs for Life)

“There will be other signs – there’s a sign on the Bedford Highway today – but it’s not in response to them.”

Meanwhile, South House has recently received a funding increase that has enabled them to expand their full-time staff. Ashburn believes this increase will allow them to be more active in promoting issues of gender justice.

Visit yourchoicehalifax.com to learn more about the South Shore and Halifax Sexual Health Centre’s ad campaign.

SMU Huskies upset UNB Varsity Reds to advance to AUS men’s hockey final

The Saint Mary’s Huskies completed their upset of the heavily favoured University of New Brunswick Varsity Sunday night at the Halifax Forum with a 1-0 win.

By Matthew Scrimshaw

Battle for the puck 1
SMU defenceman Mitchell Maynard (left) battles a UNB player for the puck during Sunday night’s 1-0 win.

The Saint Mary’s Huskies completed their upset of the heavily-favoured University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds Sunday night at the Halifax Forum with a 1-0 win.

In a tight checking affair witnessed by an announced crowd of over 1,700, the Huskies advanced to the 2014 Subway Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey championship thanks to an early third period goal by Stephen Gillard and the stellar goaltending of Anthony Peters.

With their victory, Saint Mary’s has eliminated UNB from the AUS playoffs.

A tale of two seasons

The AUS conference-leading Varsity Reds entered the playoffs with a sparkling record of 24-3, having won all four of their regular season match-ups against the Huskies.  Their No. 1 ranking in the Atlantic conference ensured them of a first-round bye into the semifinal.

The fifth-seeded Huskies meanwhile limped into the playoffs with a record of 14-14, and had to get past the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers in the first round.

They also had to overcome memories of last year’s heartbreaking losses to UNB in both the AUS and Canadian Interuniversity Sport finals.

According to longtime Huskies head coach Trevor Stienburg, the team’s confidence never wavered during a trying season.

“We finished .500 and it was a frustrating year, but the guys kept the faith.  They didn’t get frustrated and kept their confidence.”

Peters shuts down high-powered offence

The Varsity Reds, boasting two of the league’s top four scoring leaders, entered the game eager to reassert their regular season dominance.  They controlled the game through the first two periods, but were continually stymied by Huskies goaltender Anthony Peters.

Peters thwarted Reds forward, Phillippe Maillet, on a two-on-one at the 6:31 mark of the opening period with a smart glove save, and made several stops through traffic as the Huskies killed off Gerrad Grant’s tripping penalty early in the second.

Stienburg, the three-time CIS Coach of the Year, praised the performance of Peters, but was quick to give credit to his entire team.

“We’re proud of him and he’s getting the attention he deserves because he’s playing that well.  At the same time, I think all the guys have stepped up, and made a conscious decision defensively to block shots and keep teams on the outside.”

The excellent play of Peters was matched early on by that of Reds backup goaltender Joel Vienneau, who got the nod in place of regular starter Charles Lavigne.

Though not tested as often, Vienneau made several key saves to preserve the early scoreless tie.  He made a sliding stop off a Steven MacAulay one-timer late in the first period, and turned away a second period shorthanded breakaway by Ryan Hillier with a terrific glove save. He also stopped a penalty shot awarded to Huskies captain Lucas Bloodoff in the waning moments of the third period to keep UNB’s hopes alive.

UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall defended his decision to start Vienneau, pointing to his performance and previously unbeaten record.

“We just thought maybe it was an opportunity for Joel, and he played outstanding last night and gave us every chance to win.”

Bloodoff’s leadership

Saint Mary’s broke the deadlock early in the third period, after a failed clearing attempt, by UNB, was intercepted by the Huskies’ bruising six-foot-two, 230-pound forward Bloodoff.

Bloodoff circled around the UNB net before sliding a pass to an uncovered Stephen Gillard, who threaded a shot through a crowd of players in front of the goal and past Vienneau.

The assist capped a remarkable two-game performance by Bloodoff, the 2012-13 CIS Senator Joseph A. Sullivan Player of the Year recipient.  He also scored the double-overtime game-winning goal in Game 3 of the series.

Stienburg insisted that Bloodoff’s impact extended beyond the scoreboard.

“Bloody is not necessarily a natural goal scorer, but he’s a natural leader.  Let’s just say that he’s not healthy, so it’s even more inspiring to see what he’s done.”

Stienburg added that Bloodoff played in last year’s playoffs with a unprotected fractured hand, and was suffering from a similar injury this year.

“It’s almost like he doesn’t feel pain, so I don’t know if he’s not that bright, or he’s just that tough.”

Saint Mary’s lead was nearly undone by two successive third period penalties that allowed UNB sustained pressure in the Huskies end.  Peters was forced into his biggest stop of the night during the power play, making a brilliant kick save on a slapshot wired by UNB defenceman Matt Petgrave.

UNB’s comeback would be cut short by a late penalty to captain Chris Culligan, who was given a 10-minute misconduct for checking from behind with only two minutes remaining in the game.

What’s next

MacDougall lamented the loss, but insisted his young team would be back in the running next year.

“We had some great veteran players that put in great careers here at UNB, brought in a lot of championships to our program, and left a great legacy for our program.  For the new guys, they didn’t get that chance yet, but it leaves something to look forward to for next season.”

Seeking their 14th AUS title, the Saint Mary’s Huskies move on to play the Acadia Axemen in a best 2-of-3 series to determine the Subway AUS men’s hockey championship beginning on Thursday.